Fox Business host John Stossel is dismissing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed ban on plastic foam containers by claiming the containers are "not so bad" for the environment. But the non-recyclable containers pose health and environmental risks and impose significant costs on the city.
On Thursday's edition of Fox and Friends, Stossel said that we need not worry about waste from the plastic foam containers colloquially called "Styrofoam" because "we're not running out of landfills":
But shifting from products that end up in landfills to products that can be recycled can save the city money, and the health and environmental risks of Styrofoam are indeed "bad."
Using recyclable products rather than Styrofoam saves the city money. Even if there is room for more landfills, as Stossel claims, it will be cheaper for the city if recyclable products replace Styrofoam containers. The Associated Press reported:
It costs the city an average of $86 per ton to landfill some 2 million tons of garbage a year; by contrast, the city nets a payment of at least $10 a ton for recycling paper and about $14 a ton for recycling glass and plastic, [New York City's head of recycling, Ron] Gonen said.
Reuters added that Styrofoam imposes costs on the city's recycling program:
An estimated 20,000 tons of Styrofoam enter the city's waste stream each year, and it can add an estimated $20 per ton to the cost of recycling because it needs to be removed from the recycling stream, the city said.
The largest single source of trash, or municipal solid waste (MSW), is containers and packaging, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
As around 70 percent of paper and steel containers, and over a third of aluminum and glass containers are recycled, replacing Styrofoam containers with these alternatives could save the city significant amounts of money.
Styrofoam can leach chemicals that are likely cancerous. The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has listed styrene as a likely human carcinogen. Polystyrene, the technical name of Styrofoam, can leach this chemical into foods, according to the NIH:
Styrene is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on limited evidence of carcinogenicity from studies in humans, sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity from studies in experimental animals, and supporting data on mechanisms of carcinogenesis.
The presence of styrene in packaged foods is due primarily to leaching of monomer from polystyrene containers (Howard 1989, ATSDR 2010).
And while the NIH stated that most exposure to styrene comes from cigarette smoke, pediatrician Philip Landrigan told ABC News that he would advise pregnant women and small children to avoid the containers as a precaution even though "the data are incomplete."
Styrofoam can pollute our seafood supply. Stossel also ignored the risk of Styrofoam containers ending up in the ocean. Styrofoam is one of the primary components of the garbage strewn across the Pacific Ocean, and when fish consume Styrofoam and other plastics, it can contaminate the food supply.
These societal costs of Styrofoam are important to take into consideration when weighing policy options.