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Burke proposes environmental ban on Styrofoam food containers

Chicago would ban Styrofoam and other polystyrene food containers, under an environmental crackdown proposed Wednesday, even as a San-Francisco-style ban on plastic bags remains stalled in the City Council.

“I’ve advanced it in the past. It hasn’t gotten very much support. But, since that’s an issue that’s being wrestled with now in New York, I thought it was time to bring it up again,” said Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee.

Burke noted that 250,000 Chicago Public School students use Styrofoam trays every day. That forces CPS to clog Chicago landfills with 35 million lunch trays thrown away every year.

“These products never degrade. They’re being dumped into landfills… Some restaurants and chains have voluntarily gone to paper. The time has come to put this question back on the front-burner and put some pressure on the people who are distributing this material all across our city. It’s expensive. It’s dirty. It’s annoying and it ought to stop,” Burke said.

What about the cost to retailers struggling to survive amid small profit margins?

“Well, let’s see what they say the cost is going to be. If McDonald’s can go to paper, why can’t these other chains?” Burke said.

The Il. Retail Merchants Association has branded the renewed effort to ban plastic bags now clogging the waste stream as a “tax on retailers” that could stifle Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s efforts to fill Chicago’s food deserts with new grocery stores. Paper bags cost three times as much as plastic bags.

That’s apparently why opposition from Emanuel has stalled the plastic bag ban.

Asked Wednesday whether he’s prepared to support a Styrofoam ban, Emanuel said he has to “study that proposal specifically” before taking a stand.

“I take our actions as a city on, what I call overall issues of sustainability seriously,” Emanuel said.

“We’ve been debating for ten years whether we should close two coal-fired power plants. They’re now closed. We’ve been debating for years whether we should have citywide recycling. We do now. We have taken actions—and you’ll be seeing more—as it relates to making sure we have our regulation guard up as it relates to Petcoke on the Southeast Side. So, from an environmental standpoint, our record is clear.”

Burke’s ordinance would make it a crime—punishable by license and permit revocation and fines ranging from $300-to-$500-a-day—to sell or offer for sale polystyrene loose fill packaging” in Chicago.

The only exceptions would be “pre-packaged foods packaged outside” Chicago and “food service ware” used after the Commissioner of Business Affairs and Consumer Protections determines there is “no alternative that is both affordable and compostable.”