City: Recycling Plastic Foam Would Add 1,000 Deadly Trucks to NYC Streets

Sanitation truck drivers are among the most dangerous to NYC pedestrians and cyclists, and two City Council bills that could lead to recycling — rather than banning — plastic-foam containers may end up putting 1,000 more trash haulers on city streets.

A 1999 report found that garbage truck drivers had the highest fatality rate of any category of NYC motorist. The city says it would take 1,000 new trucks to recycle foam food and drink containers. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/southerncalifornian/14578962/##So Cal Metro/Flickr##

A 1999 report found that garbage truck drivers had the highest fatality rate of any category of NYC motorist. The city says it would take 1,000 new trucks to recycle foam food and drink containers. Photo: So Cal Metro/Flickr

Mayor Bloomberg wants to stop the use of polystyrene foam food and drink containers, as they add waste to landfills and are often mistakenly mixed with recyclables. Other cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, already have bans in place.

As part of a lobbying effort, the foam container industry, which wants the city to recycle rather than ban its products, has given thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, Public Advocate-elect Letitia James, and several council members.

Both de Blasio and James have come out in support of Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban, but it was weakened by a council amendment that would give the city a year to determine if foam can be recycled ”in a manner that is environmentally responsible” and “economically practical.”

Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway has told the council it would take $70 million a year and an additional 1,000 sanitation trucks to pick up, sort, and process “clean foam” products for recycling. The city says foam containers dirtied by food can’t be recycled.

In the 1990s, street safety group Right Of Way found that sanitation truck drivers kill more city pedestrians and cyclists per mile driven than any other motorist category. Here is Charles Komanoff, citing the 1999 report “Killed By Automobile” for Streetsblog in 2010:

With an average of 23.8 peds or cyclists killed per hundred million miles driven, garbage trucks had by far the highest fatality rate in the study, exceeding the all-vehicle average of 1.7 killed per hundred million miles by a factor of 14. Within the garbage truck category, the per-mile rate of killing pedestrians and cyclists was two-thirds higher for private haulers than for NYC Department of Sanitation trucks.

The Times reported yesterday that the foam container industry has spent nearly a million dollars to lobby electeds against the ban. According to the Campaign Finance Board, Ariane Dart, whose husband is one of the owners of the Dart Container Corporation — reportedly the world’s largest foam cup and container company — donated money this year to the campaigns of de Blasio, James, Bill Thompson, Christine Quinn, Jumaane Williams, Peter Koo, Vanessa Gibson, Chaim Deutsch, James Oddo, Leroy Comrie, Robert Jackson, Dan Garodnick, Fernando Cabrera, Mark Weprin, and Inez Dickens.

Capital New York reported in November that Jackson and fellow Council Member Diana Reyna have introduced competing legislation that would require the city to recycle foam containers. The bill does not call for a study on the feasibility of such a program, or its effect on the city budget. G. Oliver Koppell and Rosie Mendez are co-sponsors of that bill.