Making a Green City Even Greener

By Jeff Maurer

Polystyrene Food Container

Polystyrene Food Container

New Yorkers don’t like being second-best; whether its sports, food, or the arts, we strive to lead, not follow. One of the newer facets of New York’s character is a desire to be a leader in environmentalism and sustainability. This is huge; making the big apple a green apple will provide a model for other cities to follow. Recently, Mayor Bloomberg took two important steps in that direction by banning polystyrene foam (commonly called Styrofoam) containers and requiring the city’s largest food waste generators to separate their food waste.

When it comes to being bad for the environment, polystyrene foam is a repeat offender.  Polystyrene foam used to be regularly manufactured using ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, and even today it is impossible to confirm that all polystyrene foam is “ozone safe.” Styrene, the basic building block of polystyrene, is classified as a possible carcinogen by EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The manufacture of polystyrene requires large amounts of petroleum and chemicals. When polystyrene foam goes to a landfill, it stays there: it can take more than a million years for a polystyrene product to decompose.

Polystyrene foam is about as bad for the environment as a product can get; that’s why Mayor Bloomberg’s ban is a welcome development. Better alternatives are available; companies including Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, Wendy’s, McDonalds, Red Lobster, and Arby’s have already stopped using polystyrene foam. The City Council passed the ban unanimously. This is a change whose time has come.

Another important step towards becoming a more equitable and sustainable city came in Mayor Bloomberg’s requirement that the city’s largest food waste generators separate their food waste. This will result in more food being composted or given to the needy; less will go to landfills. We should be taking every measure to avoid wasting food, especially when more than 14 percent of New Yorkers – almost 3 million people – don’t have enough to eat. When food goes to a landfill it rots and becomes a significant source of methane, a greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. This measure will encourage New York’s largest producers of food to keep food on our tables and out of landfills.

New York has a lot of competition for the title of “greenest city;” nearby, cities including New Paltz and Newark are putting ambitious programs in place to make their cities greener. I’m glad to see Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council take these steps to bolster New York’s reputation as a leader in environmental protection and sustainability.

About the Author: Jeff is a speechwriter and public affairs specialist. He started in EPA’s Washington, DC office in 2005 and moved to EPA’s Region 2 office in New York in 2011. Before joining EPA, Jeff served in the Peace Corps in Morocco. He is an avid soccer fan and part-time standup comedian, and can periodically be found performing at clubs around New York.