By Sebastien Malo
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Mayor Bill de Blasio fulfilled a campaign promise on Thursday by announcing a ban on serving food and drinks in polystyrene foam containers, a measure hailed by environmentalists but long opposed by the food service industry.
The measure, first proposed in February 2013 by de Blasio's predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, will stop restaurants, coffee shops and food carts in the nation's largest city from using single-serve containers made of expanded polystrene beginning on July 1.
"These products cause real environmental harm and have no place in New York City," de Blasio said in a statement.
The announcement came after a one-year consultation period included in a bill enacted at the end of 2013, giving opponents an opportunity to prove to the city's sanitation commissioner that an existing Brooklyn facility could effectively recycle the material.
The city won't take expanded polystyrene as part of its regular recycling program because of difficulties in processing the material. It collected 28,500 tons of waste in the fiscal year 2014, according to municipal data.
"Restaurant owners and food vendors here will transition to more environmentally friendly food and beverage containers, just as they have in more than 100 jurisdictions around the country where similar bans have already been adopted," said Eric Goldstein of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The city will start fining violators of the ban after a six-month grace period ending in January 2016. Administration officials have not yet determined a fine schedule, a spokesman said.
Switching from plastic foam cups and containers can increase costs by 20 to 50 percent, said Christopher Hickey, a spokesman for the New York State Restaurant Association.
Hickey does not believe the additional expense will affect prices on the menu.
Still, with some 5,000 members in New York City, the group worked to include a provision in the law that allows operations with a gross income of less than $500,000 to seek a waiver and continue using plastic foam.
Andrew Rigie, head of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, with more than 1,600 member restaurants in the city, suggested some operators might opt for a price hike.
"Restaurants will have decide if they are able to afford the increased costs, but I imagine some may unfortunately have to raise their prices," Rigie said.
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo; Editing by Frank McGurty, Barbara Goldberg and Eric Beech)