Washington State Bans Single-Use Foam

In 2021, Washington state passed a law banning single-use polystyrene food and drink containers, which has now taken effect.

Polystyrene, made from fragile hollow beads of various plastics, is considered one of the most environmentally harmful plastics. Despite its lightweight, durable, and insulating properties, it remains in use for packaging and other applications. Polystyrene can take over 1,000 years to decompose, releasing microplastics into soil and water throughout that time.

According to Oceana, at least 11 states have enacted laws to phase out expanded polystyrene foam. The environmental group advocates for nationwide bans on the material. Seattle prohibited foam food containers approximately 15 years ago, and Oregon Governor Tina Kotek signed a similar law last year.

Although recycling polystyrene is possible, Washington’s Department of Ecology notes it is costly and most residential recycling programs do not accept it. Food residue complicates recycling further, which is why the ban targets takeaway containers. Polystyrene can also blow around and contaminate other materials during transport and at recycling facilities.

Violators of the ban will face fines but also receive support and resources to help them find alternative container options. Possible replacements include aluminum containers, which are reusable and provide better insulation for food.

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