Having already banned smoking and large soft drinks, and taken steps against trans fats and salt, America’s foremost proponent of government control over consumer choices has set his sights on Styrofoam food containers. But don’t worry. “We’re not banning everything!” Mayor Michael Bloomberg insists. So take solace, New Yorkers — this is a significant pullback from the mayor’s 2007 statement: “We ban everything.”
Banning Styrofoam (actually a brand name; the general term is polystyrene foam) is yet another ridiculous “priority” from the mayor who overturned the city’s term limits — twice approved by the voters — on the theory that his financial expertise was indispensable, then spent his third term ignoring finances so he could focus on banning, well, maybe not everything, but a lot of things.
There’s a strangely retro feel to Bloomberg’s latest crusade. The irrational fear of running out of landfill space went out of style years ago, and was definitively buried by John Tierney’s celebrated New York Times Magazine cover story in 1996. But now Bloomberg is bringing Styrophobia back, and is actually trying to use the economic inefficiency of recycling as an argument for banning Styrofoam.
“Here in New York City, it costs us an extra 20 bucks a ton to take it out of these recycling things,” Bloomberg said. “Your tax bill is higher than it needs to be because we’ve got to go and take polystyrene out of the waste.”
Got that? People are putting Styrofoam containers in their recycling bins, and the city has to pay people to pick it out and put it in the regular garbage. (Good thing all those 16-ounce bottles New Yorkers will have to buy in lieu of the now-verboten two-liter bottles are recyclable!) Is there no other solution to this allegedly severe economic problem — like, say, convincing more people to put their Styrofoam containers in the trash, where they belong?
And what about the highly unfavorable economics of banning polystyrene, with alternatives reportedly costing two to five times more and therefore guaranteeing higher prices for take-out food from restaurants and street vendors throughout the city? That will hit the poorest New Yorkers the hardest, for whom relatively small price increases add up quickly to make a material impact on household budgets. And the idea that a health threat is posed by Styrofoam is largely disproven.
The real scandal, of course, is that Bloomberg thinks this issue is worthy of his time and attention at all. As Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute recently observed, health benefits for city workers are up 69.2 percent from when Bloomberg entered Gracie Mansion eleven years ago, and pension costs have more than tripled. Yet Bloomberg didn’t bother to mention these costs, now north of $10 billion per year and rising fast, in a State of the City address that focused largely on the scourge of Styrofoam food containers.
At some point New Yorkers are bound to revolt against a panoply of petty tyrannies controlling what they can eat, drink, and now carry their food in. Especially as they are forced to shell out billions of dollars in higher taxes for the privilege.
— Phil Kerpen, president of American Commitment, was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y.