New York City mayor, Michael "Regulate the Pain Away" Bloomberg, is expected to propose a sweeping ban on plastic foam food packaging, that immortal scourge of the 20th-century. New York Times reporter Michael Grynbaum evidently got an advance peek at the mayor's final State of the City address on Thursday, and it sounds like Bloomberg is pretty serious about this one. Then again, coming from the guy who not only banned cigarettes from public parks but also large servings of soda from New Yorkers' stomachs. Grynbaum says the ban will force restaurants and bodegas to find a new way to serve coffee and takeout, while public schools will have to do away with their foam plastic treys. "We can live without it, we may live longer without it, and the doggie bag will survive just fine," Bloomberg will declare. And think about how many foam-eating squirrels we'd save!
Before you go slipping into Randian rhetoric about overzealous government, know that the ban makes great sense. Aside from the money it will save from keeping this crap out of our landfills — Grynbaum says the ban will save millions — getting rid of foam plastic will do all kinds of good for the environment. While plastic foam does not necessarily mean Styrofoam, the trademarked material made by 3M, it does tend to include lots of very bad things. The toxic chemicals in polystyrene, one of the building blocks for this type of material, is known to cause a number of health problems for the people who handle it. Some types of plastic foam also produce HFCs, or hydrofluorocarbons which is known to deplete the ozone layer. Plastic foam also a petroleum product which is never a good sign. It is, however, cheap which is part of the reason why it's stuck around so long.
Feel free to go after Bloomberg for butting into the lives of American citizens all you want, but it's hard to see a downside to banning plastic foam containers. Sure, it will cost the businesses who use them. But they should've stopped using plastic foam containers a long time ago — like in the 1990s, when even McDonald's stopped using them. From a regulatory point of view, Bloomberg himself is pretty late to the party. California cities have been on this issue for ages.