Since the beginning of this year, New York City stores and restaurants have had to find replacements for single-use foam products such as cups, plates, and takeout boxes, as part of the City’s styrofoam ban. Now, other cities in New York are taking notice. Buffalo’s Common Council is considering implementing a ban on takeout cups and containers similar to that in New York City.
Polystyrene, more commonly known as styrofoam, isn’t biodegradable. Polystyrene also makes up roughly 30 percent of landfill contents and can’t be recycled. When heated, it has the potential to leak carcinogens into food and beverages. When broken down, the pieces may pollute waterways and streets.
While the harmful effects of styrofoam are noticeable, bans in places like New York City and Buffalo have caused some controversy. Despite the environmental benefits of a styrofoam ban, many in the restaurant industry are worried about how a ban may affect their employment status or their business’s bottom line.
THE REAL COST
Restaurant owners, small business owners, in particular, worry that switching to non-styrofoam products will be more expensive, a cost that may be passed along to customers and that customers may not be willing to pay. Some smaller restaurants worry that they may even have to cut funds in other areas of operations in order to cover the costs of alternative containers. Many workers in the restaurant industry fear this means a reduction of jobs.
However, making the switch from styrofoam-based products to more sustainable alternatives may benefit more than the environment, but also businesses’ bottom lines. According to one Nielsen survey, 48 percent of Americans reported a willingness to change their spending habits in order to reduce their environmental footprints. As consumers learn more about pollution and climate change, they are beginning to see sustainability as its own amenity.
As more Americans express a desire to spend without harming the environment, a styrofoam ban can be marketed to restaurants’ advantage. By showcasing their businesses as environmentally conscious, restaurant owners can appeal to both existing and prospective customers looking to support businesses with more sustainable practices.