Bloomberg calls for ban on plastic-foam packaging, vows more Sandy recovery in final State of the City address

Holly Bailey
National Correspondent
The Ticket

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for a citywide ban on plastic-foam packaging used for coffee cups and food containers as part of a sweeping new recycling effort he hopes to implement before he leaves office.

Bloomberg made the proposal in his annual State of the City address on Thursday, his 12th and final such speech as mayor. The proposal comes on the heels of other ambitious citywide regulations Bloomberg has implemented while in office, including a ban on smoking in the city's bars, restaurants and parks; limits on the sales of sugary sodas and a requirement that fast-food eateries post the fat and calorie counts of the meals they serve.

The mayor likened the dangers of plastic-foam packaging to lead paint, insisting it puts the city's environmental future at risk.

"Something that we know is environmentally destructive and that may be hazardous to our health, that is costing taxpayers money and that we can easily do without, and is something that should go the way of lead paint," Bloomberg said. "We can live without it, we may live longer without it, and the doggie bag and the coffee cup will survive just fine."

Speaking to a large crowd at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn, a new arena that opened last fall, Bloomberg used the speech to tout the progress that New York City has made under his watch. He pointed to major developments, including the Barclay's Center, as proof the city had persevered during a difficult economy and was on the upswing again.

But Bloomberg pointed to the city's continuing efforts to rebuild in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy as the "single most important piece of unfinished business" of his tenure. In his 320 days left in office, the mayor vowed to deliver and begin to implement a plan that would protect the city from future stormsthough he refused to abandon development along the city's waterfront, calling it the life of the city.

In doing so, Bloomberg took a shot at Robert Moses, the man credited with being the "master builder" of New York City, saying he had made a "mistake" in not developing the city's waterfront earlier.

"We are a coastal city so we cannot and we will not abandon the waterfront," Bloomberg declared. "We will not cut our city off from the natural asset that has made us great. That was the mistake Robert Moses madeand one that we have been working so hard to undo. ... We will build back stronger. We will build back safer. We will build back there."

The mayor also touched on several issues he's championed during his tenure at City Hall, including immigration reform and efforts to implement new gun-control laws. While he expressed hope that progress may be finally made on those issues, he called on New Yorkers to step up pressure on Congress to pass new laws.

"Tell Congress to stop scapegoating immigrants and coddling criminals," the mayor declared.

But Bloomberg's most ambitious new policy in the speech was his proposal to ban plastic-foam packaging as a way of ensuring a cleaner New York City. His push comes after several other major cities—including San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland, Ore.—have passed similar bans on plastic-foam packaging—which is more expensive to recycle and is considered harmful to the environment.

Rumors that Bloomberg would push for a plastic-foam ban have been rampant for weeks at City Hall. The ban would require approval from the City Council if it is to be implemented.

The proposal is likely to face considerable push-back from the city’s restaurant and convenience store industries—which are already angsty about a citywide ban on sales of cups of soda larger than 16 ounces set to go into effect Mar. 1. (Diet soda is exempted.) Critics have accused Bloomberg of implementing a "nanny state" without thought of the economic impact of the regulations. For example, a plastic-foam cup is about 10 cents cheaper than a paper cup—a cost increase that quickly adds up, according to Rick Sampson, president of the New York State Restaurant Association.

"With this mayor, you just always ask yourself, 'What's next?'" Sampson told Yahoo News. "I don't fault the mayor with what he's trying to accomplish in terms of health. It's how it's done that creates the problem. Wouldn't it be nice if he even talked to us about how this might impact the industry, or at least gave us a chance to try to work together on something that would accomplish his goals without hurting the biggest industry in New York City?"

The foam packaging ban is part of a larger recycling initiative that Bloomberg outlined in his speech Thursday. The mayor also proposed putting one thousand new recycling bins on city streets and announced the city will open a new recycling center in Brooklyn. He also announced a pilot program that would allow New York City residents to recycle food waste by composting—again following the lead of other major cities, including San Francisco. The mayor's office said the composting plan will initially launch on Staten Island and, if successful, will expand to the entire city.

Bloomberg also unveiled a new plan to put more electric cars on the streets in hopes that New York City could become a "national leader" in environmentally friendly transportation and improve its air quality at the same time.

"Remember, clean air means you live longer," Bloomberg said.

It was Bloomberg's last State of the City address before he leaves office later this year, and the event included plenty of pomp and circumstance.

Ahead of his speech at the Barclay's Center, the audience was entertained by a pumping soundtrack of dance music familiar to anyone who watched MTV in the early 1990s. And just before Bloomberg took the podium, the Brooklynettes, the dance team of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets who play at the arena, performed a routine to a remix of Aretha Franklin's "Respect."

Concluding his speech, Bloomberg again reminded his audience that he has only 320 days in office.

"We have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep," he said.