Foam tax, ban might be smart

Published 7:00 am Friday, February 5, 2016

A resident brought up an interesting point about taxing plastic foam products (commonly known by the brand name Styrofoam) at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

Foots Quinn suggested that, since plastic foam is harder to dispose of that paper products and it’s a source of litter and pollution, it should be made more expensive so as to be less desirable compared to paper products—products which could be recycled or which will at least will biodegrade more quickly. So far as I know, no Southern city or state has sought to limit plastic foam use either through a tax or an outright ban, but I suspect in the coming years we’ll hear more such talk.

Last year, a New York state assemblyman suggested that his state ban outright foam carry out containers and last year New York City banned all single-use foam products (that ban was later overturned in court, though the city is seeking other options). Some California cities have already banned the use of plastic foam and this year, Washington, D.C. enacted a total ban on plastic foam cups and containers, and from what I read, it has met with success and compliance.

New York, California and states and cities are regularly labeled “nanny states” whenever any prohibitions against fatty foods, sugary drinks or pollution get brought forward, but this argument has always seemed rather thin to me. After all, don’t governments have a basic responsibility in maintaining basic public health? And while a restaurant may pay less for plastic foam container than paper, it’s not the case that plastic foam is necessarily cheaper.

Take a look at developing countries around the world, and it is not difficult to see the result of lax public health regulations and, closer to home, it’s no coincidence that in the US, states with the least amount of environmental and health regulations have some of the unhealthiest people.

Who pays for a sicker population? We all pay, when we have higher health insurance premiums or for extra medicine for chronic, environmental-related illnesses.

Once we add in the cost of additional health care and environmental cleanup to the cost of cheap yet potentially dangerous goods, suddenly those cheap goods may not make the best economic long-term sense for a business, community or state. At that point, it might be wise to consider a tax, if not an outright ban.

Jesse Wright is the managing editor for The Daily News. You can email him at, or call him at 985-732-2565, ext. 301.