D.C. Styrofoam Ban Starts: Will Styrofoam Get the Plastic Bag Treatment?

Say farewell to Styrofoam take-out containers in the nationís capital. Itís been a few years in the making, but Washington, D.C. has finally enacted a firm ban on polystyrene food and beverage containers. Henceforth, all restaurants will have to provide biodegradable alternatives if they want to send their patrons home with leftovers.

The ordinance is a big score for the environment since Styrofoam is a harmful material that takes hundreds of years to decompose. Although it was recently discovered that mealworms can safely digest polystyrene, thatís not currently a practical approach to handling the worldís massive foam waste problem. As it stands, Styrofoam products account for about 30 percent of all space in landfills in the U.S. Altogether, Americans toss approximately 25 billion Styrofoam cups each year.

Styrofoam may be a nationwide problem, but lawmakers also factored in local concerns when deciding to enact the ban. The city has undergone a serious effort to clean the highly polluted Anacostia River, and the Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE) notes that foam containers are some of the most common types of litter fished out of the river. By eliminating Styrofoam boxes and cups, the river should become that much cleaner.

The D.C. law pertains specifically to food and drink containers obtained at restaurants. Styrofoam will still be allowed for a number of other uses, including to pack and ship food products. The DOEE says it will conduct regular inspections to determine that food industry businesses are complying with the law, and it invites citizens to call in tips to report restaurants that continue to serve Styrofoam.

While D.C. may be the current largest populated city in the United States to ban foam, itís certainly not the first. The Surfrider Foundation compiles a list of places across America that have similarly kicked out polystyrene containers, including Seattle, Wash., Portland, Ore., and over 60 communities scattered throughout California. Though most municipalities are recent adopters, a handful of places have laws dating back to the late 1980s/early 1990s.

New York City was the biggest city to get rid of foam containers until a few months ago. A judge in New York state undid the ban on polystyrene containers throughout New York City, saying that the city had the responsibility to find better ways to recycle the material before outright banning it.

Despite NYC backtracking thanks to an outside judge, the overall shift toward eliminating foam is a reassuring trend. For years, it seemed like banning plastic bags was too farfetched to succeed, but for every city that takes the plunge, more and more follow suit. If a couple other major cities join D.C., Seattle and Portland in requiring biodegradable container options, other vaguely eco-conscious cities will probably follow their example once they see how feasible it is.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

65 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill5 months ago

So, with everyone so addicted to Starbucks, etc. what are they going to serve coffee in?

Graham P.
Graham P.5 months ago

Now make it a Worldwide Ban. Hate the stuff, makes me cringe just to touch it.Yuk.

Kathryn Irby
Past Member 5 months ago

Great news! Thanks for sharing.

Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla5 months ago

Styrofoam and plastic should be banned everywhere; enough pollution! Thank you for posting

Doris F.
Doris F.5 months ago

good idea agains plastic and styrofoam, thanks

F Beveridge
Fredrica R.5 months ago

The author's claim that "Styrofoam products account for about 30 percent of all space in landfills in the U.S." doesn't sound right. LiveStrong might not be the best source for environmental info, and I’m afraid the misinformation will be picked up and repeated. According to the Polystyrene report on the Earth Resource Foundation site, "By volume, the amount of space used up in landfills by ALL PLASTICS (emphasis mine) is between 25 and 30 percent." So that would include plastic bottles, packaging, etc., not just Styrofoam. Here’s the source: http://www.earthresource.org/campaigns/capp/capp-styrofoam.html

Kathryn Irby
Past Member 5 months ago

Hopefully, it shall! Thanks for posting.

Carole R.
Carole R.5 months ago

Styrofoam may be convenient but it is deadly to the environment. We need to find a biodegradable substitute.

Antony M.
Antony M.5 months ago

good news