Skip directly to content

New York City Council Bans Foam Containers

New York City joins a growing list of cities banning polystyrene.



After a long day, sometimes there's nothing better than ordering take-out. But, what to do with your food container may be more complicated than choosing what to order.


New York City Council recently banned polystyrene – more commonly known by the brand name Styrofoam – food containers, cups, and packing peanuts. The Council’s main concerns include that polystyrene containers do not biodegrade, cannot easily be recycled, and increase the cost of the city’s recycling programs.


Polystyrene manufacturers argue that other cities recycle polystyrene. These companies have one year to convince NYC of the products’ recyclability before the ban takes effect.


The manufacturers also counter that other trash will just replace the banned items. However, NYC also plans to expand its recycling of other plastics, and its recycling outreach efforts.


Several other U.S. cities – mostly on the West Coast – have also banned polystyrene food packaging, including Seattle, Los Angeles and Portland, Ore. Others, such as Chicago and Washington, D.C., have similar bans in the works. Some fast food corporations, such as McDonald's, are also phasing out the packaging.


Environmental groups spearheaded many of the efforts to ban polystyrene, and list an array of additional concerns over these food containers.


Styrene – a possible carcinogen – can leech into food when the containers are heated, California nonprofit Clean Water Action stated in a fact sheet. Polystyrene also ranked as the second-most abundant form of beach litter in the organization’s 2011 study of 43 Orange County coast sites. Blown by the wind, polystyrene can travel far out into the ocean. Plastics, including polystyrene, make up 90 percent of marine debris.


"The bottom line is that some products are so harmful to public health and the environment, that they need to be banned when safer and more sustainable alternatives exist," said Miriam Gordon, California Director of Clean Water Action, in a press release.


What You Can Do: