Hoboken may join other cities across the country, including New York City, Washington DC, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Oakland, Portland, Albany, and Seattle in banning expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam products, commonly known by the brand name Styrofoam.
EPS is a plastic resin manufactured into consumer products such as Styrofoam cups, containers, trays, plates, clamshell cases, and egg cartons, as well as loose-fill packaging like packing peanuts.
The City Council is expected to vote on a possible Styrofoam ban during its Aug. 7 meeting as an amendment to the city’s plastic bag ban ordinance, which prohibited single-use carryout plastic bags from Hoboken in January 2019.
The amendment, sponsored by Councilman Jim Doyle, was introduced by a unanimous vote by the council at its July 10 meeting.
In 2011, the town of Secaucus banned Styrofoam containers.
The legislation also proposes to update the single-use plastic bag ordinance passed by the city council in June of 2018, which would include a full ban on all carryout plastic bags.
Under the current regulations, retail and food establishments are permitted to use reusable plastic bags, which must be at least 2.25 milliliters in width, can carry a minimum of 22 pounds, and can be used at least 125 times, among other regulations.
The reusable plastic bags would no longer be permitted if the legislation is passed by the council.
According to the ordinance, Styrofoam “presents significant global environmental issues” because it is non-biodegradable and non-recyclable, and can last in landfills for 500 years or more.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services added styrene, a chemical found in Styrofoam products, to its list of known or possible carcinogens.
When improperly disposed of, Styrofoam clogs storm drains and pollutes the Hudson River and the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary, harming marine life.
The 2016 NY-NJ Harbor Estuary Plastic Collection Report by the NY/NJ Baykeeper found that at least 165,840,512 million plastic particles are floating within NY-NJ Harbor Estuary waters at any given time. The most abundant types of plastic were Styrofoam, at 38 percent.
The council hopes removing Styrofoam will help the city continue to move toward its goal of sending zero waste to landfills, making the city more eco-friendly, as residents and retailers choose alternative materials that are recyclable such as aluminum, uncoated paper, glass, and compostable containers.
According to the ordinance, no retail establishment or mobile food commissary would be permitted to possess, sell, or offer single-service articles containing Styrofoam, including providing food in single-service containers made with Styrofoam. It also prohibits retail establishments from selling polystyrene loose-fill packaging.
The ban does not apply to Styrofoam containers used for prepackaged food or products that have been filled and sealed outside of Hoboken before they are received by the retailer or mobile food commissary. It also doesn’t include similar containers used to store raw meat, pork, fish, seafood or poultry that is sold from a butcher case or similar appliance.
“Styrofoam isn’t biodegradable, can’t be recycled, and is a threat to our environment and health,” said Mayor Ravi Bhalla. “Hoboken is committed to environmental sustainability, and this proposed ban will allow us to do our part to reduce harmful landfill waste and encourage the use of safer alternatives.”
Should the ordinance amendment pass on final reading, retailers who violate the foam ban could face fines.
According to the ordinance, any retail establishment that violates or fails to comply with the ban would first receive an initial written warning notice. If the establishment continues to violate the ban, it would receive a $100 fine for the first violation. A second violation could mean a fine of up to $200. With a third violation, the establishment could pay up to $500, and $500 for subsequent violations.
For a $100 fee, retailers can also petition the city to be exempt. The mayor and the City Council’s Environment Subcommittee would grant exemptions, based on extraordinary circumstances. Those circumstances have not been defined in the ordinance.