There he goes again.
From trans fats to large, sugary drinks, calorie postings and salt, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has imposed his vision of a better quality of life on us, banning the things that he thinks could harm us, trying to make the city a safer place in which to ingest the Recommended Daily Intake of nutrients.
The announcement of Mayor Bloomberg’s latest target — polystyrene foam, better known as Styrofoam — in cups and containers, has generally met with a muted reaction. After all, New Yorkers can weather more than another annoying intrusion into their daily lives.
So, what really is our complaint? Why, when we heard the news from City Hall, did our grip on that empty Styrofoam cup in our hand unconsciously tighten, and the white container become crushed into a non-recyclable pile of plastic shards? After all, Mayor Bloomberg surely must have had some substantial reasoning behind this decision.
“Styrofoam, or polystyrene, does not degrade with time. It’s just there forever,” he said. “And it’s not good for you, and it costs us a lot of money. And the stores — most stores have already gone away from it.”
The multi-billionaire resident of Gracie Mansion’s concern for our money is touching, even if it conveniently glosses over the loss of our money his proposal will cause. Thousands of as-yet unenlightened street vendors and takeout-restaurant owners — who have not yet “gone away from it” — will have to bear the cost of more expensive containers. Not to mention the millions of consumers who will be paying more for their foods and beverages because of it.
Alternatives to Styrofoam, such as aluminum, tend to cost between two and five times as much, and opposition to the plan is expected from small businesses.
“As the legislative process moves forward, we hope that all parties listen to small businesses like restaurants and take into account how it’ll affect them,” said Andrew Moesel, spokesman for the New York State Restaurant Association.
We also hope that alternative solutions will be taken into account. Steve Russell, vice president of the American Chemistry Council, a trade group, suggested recycling polystyrene instead of outlawing it. “The technology exists to recycle polystyrene foam foodservice right now,” he said, citing efforts in California.
The American Chemistry Council also noted that polystyrene foam products are cheaper, which could end up saving tax dollars for government agencies that buy them.
The mayor’s word is not law. His proposal would have to be drafted into legislation and passed by the City Council before we could be saved from the plague of Styrofoam.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn reportedly supports it. Although a similar proposal has been stalled in the Council in recent years, with the weight of the mayor behind it, a ban could well become reality.
Opposition groups will have a hard time preventing it. Unlike Styrofoam, Mayor Bloomberg is no soft target, but a formidable politician who has a way of getting his way.
Admittedly, it isn’t the innocuous notion of banning Styrofoam in itself that rankles. Nor is it the cost, if the stuff is really so bad for the environment and for us. Rather, it’s the context. This is yet another in a series of patronizing public health measures of dubious value from the mayor’s office.
As one avid coffee drinker said: “I think there are a lot of things in New York that are bad for the environment, like cars and buses. True New Yorkers just want their coffee.”
We haven’t lost our perspective on the issue. Presumably, Bloomberg’s brand of invasive do-gooding should be the worst that big government perpetrates on its citizens. In the big picture, we can forgive him his bans, even though they may be uncalled for. What is unforgivable, however, is his interference in bris milah.
Fortunately, we live in a democracy where the mandate of public officials to interfere with the lives of the citizenry is ultimately limited by the citizenry’s tolerance for it. And political careers, unlike some stubborn synthetic products, are biodegradable, even if it sometimes takes a dozen years.