GOWANUS – The city’s styrofoam ban went into effect Tuesday, January 1, 2019, a law reaching as far back as 2007 with fourth and fifth graders from Brooklyn leading the charge.
Students from PS 15 in Red Hook joined the mayor and other public officials at the Hamilton Avenue Marine Transfer station to make the announcement.
The ban will prohibit food services, manufacturers and stores from using single-service styrofoam containers and “packing peanuts”. There’s a six-month grace period before officials begin to fine businesses still using the products. Non-profits along with certain small businesses can apply for a hardship exemption if they can’t afford to make a switch to the alternative. Councilmen Brad Lander and Former City Councilman Vincent Gentile of Brooklyn co-sponsored the latest version of the bill which was first introduced to the council in 2013.
The first inkling of the city’s push towards banning expanded polystyrene came when then-Councilman de Blasio called to outlaw styrofoam trays in public schools back in 2007. The mayor acknowledged the students who prompted his legislation more than a decade ago.
“But I want to be clear,” de Blasio said. “When I introduced that bill, it was because I heard the voices of people in my own district. I heard from the parents and the kids at P.S. 154 in Windsor Terrace who couldn’t stand the fact that their food was served in these.”
That was in 2007, and at the time the city’s schools used 4 million styrofoam trays a week and 153 million a year, according to a New York Times blog post.
The movement morphed into a grassroots organization dubbed Cafeteria Culture, a youth-led grassroots organization focused on climate smart initiatives.
Since then, the program has evolved into a two-year program where students learn to gather information and present their findings to elected officials. One week before the judge made the final decision to allow the city’s ban, about 200 students from P.S. 15 and other schools throughout the city took to the steps of City Hall to protest the impending ban on styrofoam.
“We feel the youth had their voice heard,” said Executive Director and Founder of Cafeteria Culture Debby Lee Cohen.
Cohen said the Red Hook students who accompanied the mayor at Tuesday’s announcement had experience with climate change with Superstorm Sandy. P.S. 15 was one of three schools which served in the non-profit’s program of which the Environmental Protection Program funded in its first year.
“This was the first time we had two years with the same students and we wanted to see what happens. It allowed students to engage on a much deeper level on the issues.”
The non-profit is producing a feature-length film, “Breaking It Down” detailing the journey of students who participated in the program.