- - Monday, November 11, 2013

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray apparently wants to be Mayor Bloomberg when he grows up. And it’s not just about Big Gulps. The mayor wants to ban drink cups of all sizes, so long as they’re made of convenient Styrofoam. That’s a headache for coffee drinkers and businesses in the nation’s capital. Coffee is to the capital what aviation fuel is to the airlines, and banning Styrofoam cups wouldn’t reduce waste very much.

New York City’s meddlesome mayor, Mike Bloomberg, actually thought up with the idea to ban polystyrene first, but his mayoralty expires on New Year’s Day, and he’s running out of time. The American Chemistry Council studied the impact of Mr. Bloomberg’s scheme and found that it would cost businesses and consumers in New York City nearly $100 million a year. “For every $1 now spent on plastic foam food service and drink containers,” the council says, “NYC consumers and businesses will have to spend at least $1.94 on the alternative replacements.”

Andrew Moesel, a spokesman for the New York State Restaurant Association, further notes that restaurants are absorbing higher food and energy costs already, which is particularly difficult for neighborhood restaurants. “It’s one more thing to add to the headwinds they’re facing,” he says.

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The ban on plastic foam is more of the same Bloombergian mindset that prompted the town of Concord, Mass., to prohibit single-serving bottled water earlier this year. In the birthplace of American liberty, the effetes exempted sparkling water from the ban. King George III might be pleased.

A staple of coffee shops and fast-food carryout restaurants, polystyrene foam is said by Mr. Gray to be a profound environmental hazard and thus must be outlawed. “One need only ride around on the banks of the Anacostia and the Potomac,” Hizzoner said at a Wednesday news conference, “and you will see the refuse in the river.” Three years ago the city imposed a 5-cent fee on retail use of plastic bags, said to be for the cleanup of the Anacostia River, but the revenue was, as they say, “fungible.” Revenue is revenue.

Styrofoam, which isn’t fully biodegradable, often collects in trash in the waterways, but the mayor, like the rest of us, doesn’t know whence it comes. Upstream in Maryland or West Virginia? The problem is less one of Styrofoam and more one of littering. It’s easier to ban something useful than to enforce the law against dumping.

Paper cups, the primary alternative to Styrofoam, are not particularly recyclable, either, nor do they insulate as well as plastic foam. Paper coffee cups require double-cupping or insulating sleeves, which create a net increase not only in costs but in solid waste.

Environmental activists who laud the proposed ban say Styrofoam makes up a “substantial portion” of the trash they remove from the river, but discarded tires are a major part of the refuse polluting the Anacostia, too. So why not ban coffee? Or tires? Or even cars? But let’s not give the mayor ideas.

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