Styrofoam Ban Grows in California

PlasticNews reports that Palo Alto, Calif. will officially ban take out containers starting April 22, 2010. The move is a growing trend as 22 other coastal California towns are prohibiting the use of polystyrene takeout containers. San Francisco was the first major city to enact the ban in 2007.

The ban extends to containers, clam shells, bowls, plates, cartons and cups. However, it does not affect straws, utensils or hot up lids. In January, Palo Alto stopped accepting polystyrene packing peanuts and polystyrene blocks used in consumer goods packaging.

Palo Alto is the 23rd city in California to ban styrofoam take-out containers. Photo:

Palo Alto is the 23rd city in California to ban styrofoam take-out containers. Photo:

But while the ban will reduce Palo Alto’s waste, that’s not the initial intention of the prohibition. The current economic recession carried a lot of weight for lawmakers proposing the ban.

“Part of the rationale for a ban was the economy and the recycling markets in general,” says Mike Levy, director of the Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group of the American Chemistry Council. “It is a difficult decision for a city to add recycling when the market is down.”

However, Levy adds that fewer than 5 percent of the cities in California have enforced this ban, and as the economy picks up, so will the market for recycling materials. Therefore, Levy hopes that other cities will look at the sustainability aspect of the situation and its potential for recycling, not just from an economic standpoint.

Litter audits have shown that the polystyrene ban has not significantly reduced the littler. The 2008 audit shows that on and item-by-item basis, the 36 percent reduction in polystyrene litter was offset by an equal increase in coated paperboard.

Nevertheless, the ban is seen as a step forward considering the complexity of polystyrene (Styrofoam) recycling. Because it’s so lightweight, polystyrene takes up to 0.01 percent of the total municipal solid waste stream by weight, but as you may have guessed, its volume is a greater problem than its weight. It takes up space in landfills and doesn’t biodegrade.

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  1. If we can find a suitable alternative for Styrofoam cups etc we can promote it to local restaurants, fast food joints, coffee shops.

    Nassau County (Florida) Sierra Club

  2. We manufacture and distribute fully compostable biodegradable food packaging which can safely replace all styrofoam applications and are micro wave safe as well. We have just started selling the products in the US after 8 successful years in Europe and are looking for interested distributors.

  3. I actually support this, as much as possible I do not buy food and other things that are enclosed in styro. However this is quite difficult because there is no definite alternative for it.

  4. P&R Paper Supply, a wholesale distributor who services restaurants, institutional business, schools, caterers, grocery markets, etc, offers a full “Earth Line”, with envornonmentally friendly soulutions to the typical styrofoam, and polystyrene foodservice packaging options out there. Please contact me if you are interested in green alternatives for your foodservice operation.

  5. I think it’s a very sensible ban for environmental issues. Everytime I go to the beach I pick up trash and styrofoam is always included. I’ve sat on the sand and watched gulls play with styrofoam thinking it’s food. So many coastal and marine animals wind up eating plastics that just stay in their stomachs until it kills them. To want to continue using a plastic product for, what, convenience and pricing, when it’s killing off your environment, is I think unpractical and uncaring. Use PAPER! Use reuseable plastics. Use your head.

  6. Pingback: The Green Police | Carolina Review Daily

  7. leila & others,

    I applaud your eco-friendly pursuits, but did you know that your polystyrene lunch trays are recycleable? Please google “westwood polystyrene recycling”, and you will see how our elementary school, Westwood School in Stockton has been recycling trays for over a year now, and we’ve saved over 300 cubic yards of landfill space by doing it. We’ve also saved our district hundreds of dollars in our refuse bill because we cancelled trash pickup days because of our recycling. If you have a polystyrene recycling center near you, it may be a good option. You might also be interested to know that in cities where styrofoam has been banned, total landfill has not decreased, but rather cardboard has increased. Things do not biodegrade in landfills, because landfills are specifically designed to stop biodegradation. There are currently only 3 landfills that are engineered and designed to allow biodegradation in the state of CA, so unless you transport your used trays to one of these rare landfills, it will not biodegrade. Try to be sure that whatever product your school chooses can be easily cleaned by the kids, and that there is a recycling center for that product for it to be brought to. Our district thought they had a contract to recycle cardboard trays, but the recycling center had to back out, because oils seep in while the kids eat, and ruin the cardboard. We like polystyrene because it can be recycled into so many useful and necessary products including CD cases, computer cases, waterproof household molding, school supplies, picture frames etc.. We actually have some beautiful frames at our school that were made from our trays! Good luck on your eco-endeavors.

  8. I am unaware of any polystyrene recycling being done in California. Can anyone verify this polymer as being recycled in the state. I don’t mean the collection being done in state and then sending it out of state. Anyone?
    Jus wondering

  9. In response to the comments by Laura about what steps her school is taking to recycle styrofoam, I am encouraged by the fact that you are all striving to make a difference in reducing the amount of waste at your school, however the option of recycling styrofoam only reduces its destructive environmental impacts if everyone recycles every bit of it. Unfortunately, there are too many people in the world without conscience who contaminate our world with non-biodegradable petro-chemical crap like styrofoam every day, not to mention the health hazards associated with these products and the chemicals and synthetic hormones which they leach.
    Every bit of litter we find in the world would not be there if we were all like you and the people at your school- but we are not. i witnessed a woman today chuck a big plastic fast-food cup, lid, straw and a plastic water bottle out of her car into the street today and am discouraged to think that she and people like her deliberately pollute our planet in such ways everyday. These people should not have the power to destroy the world for the rest of us. Non-biodegradable plastic and styrofoam crap must be replaced with alternatives which will not destroy our beautiful world…because it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when they will enter our streets, steams and oceans.

  10. I understand your efforts to ban plastics and styrofoam..some sugest the use of paper..
    but looking at the big picture, thousands of trees have to be destroyed to make the
    paper products, ravishing our forests upsets the complete eco system, it is not only the
    trees that are being destroyed it is also the habitat of many animals and yes, insects
    that are beneficial to our eco system..
    Maybe one should consider banning dispoable diapers, these are not biodegradable
    and stay in our land fills for an eternity, I for one, my 2 sisters & brother raised our children
    on cloth diapers.. a gal just asked me the other day..But , what else is there to use for a
    working Mom besides disposable diapers ? My comment was” It’s called diaper service..!
    How many people that are on this “Green Theme” have and are using disposable diapers
    right now? I bet there are hundreds if not thousands….
    Traveling accross the U.S. I saw Coal Plants in New Mexico and Arizona that are polluting
    the air so the “Greenies” can drive around in their electric cars , they think electricity just falls
    out of the sky , they have no clue!
    Some of the Bio- fuel is made from a tree that is habitat to the Red Orangutang , if the destruction
    of this tree continues the Red Orangutang will be extinct in 10 years! Stop focusing on just ONE
    issue and start looking at the Big Picture !!!!

  11. Just a footnote: Don’t dish me because I misspelled several words in my previous
    comment, I slipped off my soapbox =0)

  12. Back to the Topic of Styrofoam Plz! Everyone is wondering abt alternatives? How abt the stuff they used before styrofoam, Waxed PAPER, Duh…Yea. the bottom might get a lil soggy by the time you get home w/your take out, so what. I dont like styro cause if they put food in piping hot, it melts styro and I’m eating those chemicals or If you order a taco salad, your salad is cooked and wilted when you eat it.

    I pick up roadside trash and styro just breaks into smaller pieces, it never goes away, the comment abt the seabirds ingesting this contaminate is heartbreaking to me;

    Theres too much wrong going on in this world; My Dad used to say, when we die we will be in heaven purely because we are living a hell now, The older I get and the more I learn, the truer those words; you would think that the internet would help ppl learn the plight of others..Nope, ppl live in their own lil bubbles.

    My overwhelming concern as of late has been the ‘Everything is Made In China’ syndrome. I love all ppl; Our consumption of CHINA made products worries me on 2 levels; One, their country has NO HUMAN RIGHTS or CHILD LABOR LAWS and two, they will use fillers in our petfood and their own dry baby milk killing 100’s of their own for a profit. I dread going shopping because I have to sift thru to find products made elsewhere…I become estatic when I find something actually made in the USA and we wonder why the unemployment rate is so high??

    That is what is truly disgusting to me, Really! Selling Americans out to the Commies, I never thought I would say that; I was born in 1970 and watched the Berlin wall fall, I thought the cold war was over long ago, I’m sadly mistaken. We are feeding a nation that doesnt Really like us and would side w/middle eastern countries if threatened, I dont blame Clinton, he thought he was contributing to world peace thru economics. (This is political talk and your censors may delete it, but plz don’t delete the whole comment). There is some Good here.

    Heres a challenge for your fans or (Typical middle-class American): How long can you go w/o buying somthing ‘Made in China’? A week, A month, how long? I know this site is abt recycling but what abt the human cost of our consumption. Doesn’t the supply and demand process need to be addressed also?

    Thank you for considering this comment and I hope you post it.

  13. Billy Ray, we have a small landfill (15-30TPD) quickly reaching capacity, so space here is at a premium (closure costs and follow on monitoring and maintenance here in Claifornia are estimated to run anywhere from $20M – $30M for our 60 acres). A while back we purchased a styrofoam densifier that reduces volume by something like 95% making it cost effective to store and transport the densified material to the recycling facility in southern California.

    Sure, there’s plenty that still ends up in the landfills, and there are probably better alternatives out there, but cutting more trees down to make paper and cardboard may not be the answer. I’m not sure what consumes more resources, but I suspect that it would depend on the region and local industry/economy. The cool thing about sustainability is that it’s usually not an “either / or” proposition, and there are generally not one size fits all solutions. That’s not the way the environment was created. Instead, there are tons of opportunities for everyone from the individual consumer on up to the corporate offices and boardrooms of the world to make the right decisions and find creative ways to make the planet a better place.

  14. There are plenty of alternatives to using polystyrene containers and cups. Here’s an idea for coffee shops. How about using china mugs and washing them up in a dish washer. As for the school that recycles their polystyrene lunch trays. I think what you are doing is great but I can’t help feeling that it would be even better if you served food on reusable plates. Does it really take that much effort to load a few dishwashers at the end of the lunch break.
    I am convinced that recycling is the least worst option but we need to focus more on reuse wherever possible. After all the average British person throws away 38% less trash each year than the average American so we are a lot more wasteful than other countries and could save ourselves a lot of money as individuals and businesses if we just switched to reusable options instead of the single use and then toss it option that we often plump for. I include myself in this although I have been trying hard to clean up my act (and it is easier than I thought it would be once the change becomes a habit).

  15. Great article. I didn’t realize that some of the green products don’t completely break down because of coated paperboard. Earth Friendly Green Solutions has great alternatives to Styrofoam and plastics that don’t have a coating that won’t break down. Their products are made with sugar cane and bamboo.

    To see a full list of products visit

  16. All,
    Just wanted to note that those “biogradable” cups will only do so when disposed of properly. Meaning, if you throw them in the trash, they go to the landfill. They may break down some but once in the landfill, they’ll be covered up with dirt, trash and the light, air, moisture needed won’t get to those cups. Also, the heat needed to assist in the biodegradation won’t be high enough to break down the cups.
    Best bet is to reuse cups, bring them in to get refills of coffee.

    Banning products only introduces another disposable cup to the waste stream. Most bans have not resulted in less trash…possibly more (think paper hot cup plus java jacket vs. a single foam cup). Yes, paper is renewable but most paper cups can’t be recycled. Foam can and is being collected and recycled in Calif.
    Type Type in Styrofoam in the search area plus your zip code.

  17. Western Recycling Technologies, owned by Robert Cargeeg and R. Paul Buchi are the distributors of the Thernmo Compactor Machine. Our technology will prodive the solution that we all have been looking for, Reduce and Recycle the styrofoam lunch trays. We will reduce your waste disposal by 90%, and return on investment is approx 1 year. E-Mail @

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