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Plastic and Styrofoam Bans

Many cities and states are cracking down on the use of styrofoam, plastic bags, and plastic straws in foodservice applications. If your restaurant has started offering delivery services as a result of the current coronavirus restrictions on businesses, you should familiarize yourself with the current bans on certain types of food packaging. Keep reading to find out if your state is affected by plastic and styrofoam bans and learn about environmentally friendly packaging alternatives.

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Use these links to learn more about plastic and styrofoam bans:

Plastic Bag Bans

There are different types of legislation that have passed at the state, city, and county levels regarding the distribution of single-use plastic bags. Some restrictions ban the use of all plastic bags completely, some simply place a tax on plastic bags, and some ban plastic bags based on their thickness in millimeters.

The landscape of plastic bag bans is a complex issue that has become even more complicated due to the coronavirus pandemic. Early in 2020, several plastic bag bans were put on hold due to the belief that reusable bags might not be a sanitary option. The CDC has released more info about the virus over time, and it appears that surface contact is unlikely to cause transmission. However, some businesses have still chosen to ban reusable bags. Contact your local government for the most up-to-date information on plastic bag bans and whether they are being halted in your area.

What States Have Banned Plastic Bags?

styrofoam ban

The following nine states have passed state-wide legislation regarding plastic bags:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Maine
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Vermont
  • Washington (ban delayed until COVID-19 state of emergency is lifted)

These states have no statewide bans but have passed legislation in at least one city or county:

  • Alaska
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Maryland (ban delayed until July 2021 in Baltimore)
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico (ban on hold in Albuquerque)
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Wyoming
  • Washington D.C.

Plastic Bag Alternatives

If you're looking for an alternative to single-use plastic bags, there are plenty of options available.

  • Paper Bags - Paper bags offer a convenient way to package takeout orders safely and abide restrictions on single-use plastic.
  • Reusable Bags - Reusable bags are considered the most environmentally friendly method of packaging goods. Make sure to check your state's current position on the use of reusable bags during the pandemic. It's always advisable to wash reusable bags after use to eliminate the risk of cross-contamination.
  • Food Boxes - Try skipping the bag altogether and using large takeout boxes with handles to package smaller items.

Styrofoam Bans

styrofoam ban

If your business offers takeout and delivery, you’re probably familiar with Styrofoam. This widely used material is lightweight and disposable, making it a packaging staple among food trucks, delivery chains, caterers, and restaurants. Recent bans on Styrofoam, or expanded polystyrene, would prohibit restaurants from serving food or drinks in Styrofoam containers. Read on to learn why its convenience is being contested and if your city may be affected by recent bans.

Styrofoam vs Polystyrene

Styrofoam is a trademarked name by the Dow Chemical Company to describe their closed-cell extruded polystyrene foam. It is often used interchangeably with expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam.

Polystyrene is a non-biodegradable hard plastic. Styrofoam and EPS foam are typically used in to-go applications including takeout containers, disposable utensils, and coffee cups.

Is Styrofoam Recyclable?

Yes, Styrofoam is recyclable at designated recycling centers. However, there are very few recycling centers across the country that accept and recycle Styrofoam. If you aren't sure if the product is made from Styrofoam, look for a recyclable symbol with the number "6."

Recycling centers that accept #6 plastic typically require the product to be clean and dry when it's dropped off at the facility. Unfortunately, the majority of America’s Styrofoam products are placed in landfills, where the non-biodegradable material does not break down.

What States Have Banned Styrofoam Containers?

Maine and Maryland were the first two states to start banning styrofoam products at the state level. As of 2021, this is the complete list of states with statewide bans on the sale and distribution of expanded polystyrene products:

  • Colorado (goes into effect on January 2024)
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • New York (goes into effect on January 1st, 2022)
  • Vermont
  • Virginia (goes into effect on July 2023 for large businesses and July 2025 for small businesses)

These states haven't enacted a statewide ban yet, but they have legislation passed in at least one city or county. If you live in one of these states, contact your local government to find out if your city has been affected by these bans.

  • California
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Washington, D.C.

Styrofoam Alternatives

Biodegradable Foam Take Out Containers

If you live in an area currently affected by a Styrofoam ban, there are plenty of alternatives available to keep your takeout service running smoothly. Try any of these environmentally friendly alternatives if you’re looking to comply with local regulations or get ahead of the curve in your city.

Plastic Straw Bans

Plastic straw bans began popping up in Massachusetts in 2015 but didn't hit mainstream news until Seattle became the largest US city to enact a straw ban in 2018. Supporters of plastic straw bans argue that single-use straws have a negative environmental impact, but those opposed to a ban on plastic straws argue that more expensive alternatives will hurt their business’s bottom line.

What States Have Banned Plastic Straws?

So far, California is the first and only state to enact a state-wide ban on plastic straws. The straw ban prohibits full-service restaurants from providing a single-use plastic straw to a dine-in customer unless it is requested. Restaurants that don't offer full service are exempt from the state-wide ban, but they could be affected by county laws.

These states have plastic straw bans that affect counties, cities, and even national parks. If you live in one of the states below, check with your local government to find out if your business is affected.

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • New Mexico
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Nevada
  • North Carolina
  • Oregon
  • South Carolina
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Washington D.C.

Plastic Straw Alternatives

styrofoam ban

If your food truck, banquet hall, catering business, or cafe currently operates in any of the affected areas mentioned above, it’s important to consider a few cost-effective alternatives to single-serve plastic straws. Whether you’re complying with local regulations or making an environmentally friendly switch on your own, here are a few plastic straw alternatives you can try:

  • PLA Plastic Straws - These PLA plastic straws are compostable and made from corn.
  • Paper Straws - Festive paper straws are ideal for catered events or special occasions, and they break down easily after use.
  • Reusable Straws - Not only can these straws be washed and reused, but they also provide an upselling opportunity. Try offering eco-friendly reusable straws as an add-on item to your beverage menu.
  • Edible Straws - Edible straws are a fun option for cold beverages likes smoothies, milkshakes, and cocktails. They're made from edible, biodegradable materials which makes them a great alternative to plastic straws.

When it comes to operating your foodservice business, it’s important to stay on top of possible legislative action that may affect your operational costs. Styrofoam and plastic are both big parts of takeout and delivery services, so finding an environmentally friendly option that complies with regulations without compromising your bottom line is imperative.

Posted in: Eco-Friendly Tips | By Rachel Jenkins
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