Bloomberg Pushes for Plastic-Foam Ban in ‘State of the City’Esmé E. Deprez and Henry Goldman
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he intends to use his final year in office to push for more recycling and electric vehicles, a curbside food-composting pilot program and a ban on plastic-foam food packaging.
In his final State of the City address today, the third-term mayor characterized his 11 years in office as a period in which he made the most-populous U.S. city healthier and more environmentally friendly.
He strode to the speaker’s platform to Jay-Z’s hip-hop anthem “Empire State of Mind,” after local dance groups entertained officials and business leaders at Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn. The 19,000-seat arena completed last year is the venue for concerts, the National Basketball Association’s Brooklyn Nets, and in 2015 will be the home of National Hockey League’s New York Islanders.
Bloomberg, an independent who turned 71 today, touted accomplishments including a record-low 419 homicides last year; a record 52 million tourist visits; an increase in life expectancy to 80.9 years, the longest ever; construction of 100,000 school seats; and a record 3.2 million private-industry jobs. The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
“We have unfinished business and only 320 days to complete it,” he said. “Our goal is not to spend the year cutting ribbons. It’s much bigger than that: Our goal is to advance projects -- and start new ones -- that will keep our city on the right course for decades to come.”
City Comptroller John Liu, who is planning to run for the Democratic mayoral nomination this year, said the mayor presented a “selective retelling of history” by omitting an unemployment rate above the nation’s, income disparity, legal claims against police and public schools from which only 20 percent obtain a college degree.
Bloomberg’s 2009 success in changing city election law to permit him to serve a third term was “a great mistake” and an “act of hubris,” Liu said in a statement.
In his speech, Bloomberg said a requirement that 20 percent of all newly constructed public parking spaces be outfitted to charge electric vehicles would create 10,000 such spots within seven years. The plan would need City Council approval. A pilot program to collect curbside food waste from Staten Island homes to use as compost for parks would expand citywide if successful, cutting down on the 1.2 million tons of scraps sent to landfills each year.
“One product that is virtually impossible to recycle and never bio-degrades” is plastic foam, said Bloomberg. “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.”
The mayor referred to plastic foam by the brand name Styrofoam. Nancy Lamb, a spokeswoman for Styrofoam maker Dow Chemical Co., said the company’s product is used in insulation, though not in cups, trays and food containers.
Plastic foam makes up an estimated 20,000 tons of the city’s annual waste, according to the mayor’s office. A ban on the substance, which also needs clearance from the City Council, would follow similar action by lawmakers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.
Since taking office in 2002, Bloomberg has pushed public-health programs, both as a philanthropist and as mayor in control of a $1.5 billion-a-year health department. He’s banned artery-clogging trans-fat food additives and workplace smoking; raised tobacco taxes; increased testing for HIV, cholesterol and blood pressure; required restaurant chains to post the calorie content of menu items; and limited sugary drinks in food-service establishments and arenas to 16 ounces.
New York will make its largest purchase of electric automobiles this year, adding 50 to the municipal fleet, according to the mayor’s office. A pilot of two curbside chargers will allow drivers to fill batteries in as little as 30 minutes, compared with the current eight hours. One will be open to the public, the other to taxi drivers. Both will be in Manhattan.
Last year, Bloomberg, a former Republican, unveiled a goal to double the city’s recycling rate to 30 percent by 2017. He plans to double to 2,000 the number of containers to allow the public to separate and dispose of glass, paper and plastic bottles. A new recycling plant set to open in Brooklyn will accept plastic items that weren’t previously recyclable, including salad containers and yogurt cups.
“We’ll start by making recycling easier for everyone,” the mayor promised. “As we recycle more plastics, we’ll also begin recycling food waste.”
The mayor vowed the city would bounce back from Hurricane Sandy, the so-called superstorm that caused 43 deaths in the city, flooded tunnels and subways, and damaged tens of thousands of homes.
City beaches devastated by erosion and battered boardwalks will be open by Memorial Day weekend, he said. He promised to present a long-term plan by May to prevent extended power outages and ensure adequate gasoline supplies and hospital services. He also said would protect transportation facilities from future storms.
The city would spend $1 million to support nonprofit groups to put 1,000 unemployed New Yorkers to work on hurricane relief and recovery projects, he said.
The city intends to create schools this year “to connect students directly to college and work,” with high schools offering grades nine through 14, two years past traditional secondary education, specializing in occupations such as health care, energy and computer science, he said.
To continue to develop the city as a tourist destination, the city will create low-cost youth hostels that could accommodate 175,000 visitors a year, creating more than 1,000 jobs, he said.
The mayor is barred by law from seeking a fourth four-year term.