Say farewell to Styrofoam take-out containers in the nation’s capital. It’s 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, that’s not currently a practical approach to handling the world’s massive foam waste problem. As it stands, Styrofoam products account for about 30 percent of all space in landfillsin 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 saysit 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, it’s 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.