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Washington, D.C. Bans Polystyrene Food and Beverage Containers

Polystyrene foam food and beverage containers will be banned in Washington, D.C. beginning in 2016. The ban is part of the Sustainable DC Omnibus Act of 2014, which Mayor Vincent C. Gray signed into law on July 29, 2014. The law also will require restaurants, food trucks, and other outlets that serve food to use compostable or recyclable food service products by 2017. Foam meat trays used by butchers and in grocery stores are exempt.

The ban on polystyrene foam food and beverage containers will not contribute to the District's sustainability goals, stated the American Chemistry Council (ACC) in a July 14 press release, issued after the D.C. City Council voted in favor of the ban. ACC suggested that by not considering recycling opportunities for polystyrene foam, the Council is "requiring the use of food service ware that may actually be worse for the environment." Explaining, ACC said, "A polystyrene foam cup, for example, requires one-third of the energy necessary to produce some types of compostable alternatives. Paper cups would also be banned as part of the legislation [starting in 2017] since they are not recyclable in the District." ACC also pointed out that alternatives to foam food service packaging can be two to five times more expensive.

Seattle and San Francisco are among other cities that have polystyrene foam food and beverage bans and similar legislation is being debated elsewhere.