Hundreds of students gathered at City Hall to urge NYC Mayor and Council Members to take immediate action to ban toxic and polluting plastic foam
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New York, NY – In honor of World Ocean Day 2018, NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio, City Officials and about two hundred students from New York City schools gathered at New York City Hall steps on May 30, 2018, to urge City Council Members to pass Int 135, a bill to ban expanded polystyrene foam (EPS, or commonly called “styrofoam”) and to oppose the industry-backed legislation to recycle EPS.
In 2013, NYC Council voted “yes’ to ban foam, but two industry-funded lawsuits have blocked this law. Students wanted their voices heard for for plastic-free oceans and to protect the health of marine wildlife, seafood and humans.
About 200 students came to City Hall to honor World Oceans Day, and deliver remarks based on research they’ve done about styrofoam pollution and the impacts it can have on the environment, particularly the ocean and in New York City.
PS 15 students have been studying marine plastic pollution for the past two years. They have conducted street and litter surveys and studied the life cycle of EPS foam.
EPS foam is one of the most common types of plastic pollution (Ocean Conservancy, 2016) and 80% of marine litter originates on land. EPS foam pollution easily breaks up into tiny, toxic pieces that are entering our local waterways at alarming rates. Once in our waters, microplastic foam litter acts like sponges, taking up chemical pollutants, such as pesticides, that make it even more toxic. Then it can be eaten by marine organisms as small as microscopic plankton, the base of our food chain, or as large as giant filter feeding whales.
EPS foam is made from styrene and benzene, both petroleum based chemicals. Styrene is recognized as a known animal carcinogen and found “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” by the National Toxicology Program and “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
“Each piece of expanded polystyrene foam may break up into THOUSANDS of tiny, toxic pieces,” said one PS 15 5th grader, “and the more pieces that the foam breaks up into, the more creatures that can get sick from EATING all the pieces!”
“Just imagine if you were a tiny, tiny fish and then just imagine you see these little, little tiny pieces of food,” said another PS 15 5th grade student. “Well, you think it’s food because you don’t know that it’s going to be plastic foam and then a few minutes later you eat some more and then you always feel full.”
When people eat hot, greasy or acidic food in EPS foam containers, the chemical, styrene can leach into our food. In 2015, NYC School Food Directors eliminated EPS foam trays from all public school cafeterias due to both environmental and health concerns. The foam was replaced with compostable plates.
More than 100 US communities have already banned EPS foam, including Washington, DC, San Francisco, Baltimore, Seattle, Albany County (NY) and Ulster County (NY). Last month, Baltimore City passed a law to ban of foam food containers after 200 students rallied at City Hall, making their voices heard.
“It should be our decision to ban foam because we live here in New York City,” stated one student at PS 15 Patrick F Daly (Red Hook, Brooklyn) in response to the lawsuits. “Innocent animals that don’t even know what’s going on have to deal with the mess that people make… We should make environmentally better products.”
“The people who make it, should take responsibility for it and they are NOT doing that,” said another PS 15 5th grader. “There are no warning signs on the package when you buy polystyrene.”
“If we do not stop this problem now, it will chase up to us the rest of our lives,” said a 6th grade student from PS 188 The Island School. “In 10 years we will be 21 and 22 years old. I don’t want any chemicals in my body.”
“I was so proud to join hundreds of New York City students today who are committed to plastic-free oceans and a styrofoam-free City,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “Since young people know they will be inheriting this plastic-choked planet, they are stepping up to take the leadership we need to see on the existential crisis of our time: climate change. I thank Cafeteria Culture and its student leaders for their incredible work to engage students on issues of waste, climate change and environmental sustainability.”
“One of the essential functions of a public education is to give students the tools they need to become active citizens in our democracy. So it’s inspiring to see so many students coming to City Hall today to learn about civic engagement firsthand,” said Eric A. Goldstein, NYC Environment Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“Thanks to student and parent advocacy, in 2015, New York City School Food Directors eliminated styrene foam trays from all public schools for both health and environmental reasons,” said Debby Lee Cohen, Executive Director and Founder of Cafeteria Culture. ”Students in our Plastic Free Waters program are happy to learn that our city is dedicated to protecting the health of 1.1 million students.”
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