January 2, 2019

Beginning January 1, 2019 certain expanded polystyrene (EPS, popularly known as “styrofoam”) products have been banned for sale, distribution, or use in NYC. Materials covered by the ban include EPS single-service items including cups, bowls, plates, takeout containers and trays, and loose fill “packing peanuts”.

Visit our FAQ page or nyc.gov/foamban for more information.

Foam Alternatives Analysis

There are many inexpensive, more sustainable alternatives to EPS foam on the market today. MSWAB Foam Alternatives Task Force investigated food service packaging life cycle studies (including the recent Oregon DEQ study), consulted with NYC’s municipal recycler SIMS, and performed extensive research to provide sustainable EPS foam alternatives to NYC businesses and residents.

Click to watch video

Click to watch video

What are the most sustainable options from a lifecycle AND end of life perspective?

Several features reduce the environmental impact of a product:

  • Recycled content

  • Relatively light in weight

  • Recyclable in your area and/or by your hauler

  • Durable, washable, reusable*

  • Post-consumer fiber content in compostable products**

*Switch to reusable food service packaging wherever possible to avoid disposal and get as many uses as possible out of the product. This approach significantly decreases the environmental impact of the product, because even recycling is a form of disposal (and because many recyclable materials don’t make it into the recycling bin and are instead landfilled or incinerated.)

**Compostable foodservice packaging from agricultural products (or virgin materials) has significant environmental impacts, combined with the fact that a low percentage of it is actually composted. However, some products now contain post-consumer composted fiber. These products have a lower environmental impact and are therefore preferable to compostable service-ware made with “virgin” materials.

Which disposable, recyclable products are most sustainable?

  • Aluminum products (most of which contain recycled content)

  • Rigid plastics, primarily #1, #2 and #5 recyclable plastic products containing recycled content (look for these symbols):

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  • 100% recycled paper packing fill

  • Compostable products that are certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute, see the logo (right). Certified compostable product that contain post-consumer fiber content are preferred. Refer to Biodegradable Products Institute (products.bpiworld.org) for a searchable database of certified compostable product companies.

Foam Alternative Product Suggestions

Click on the table below (or here) for a view-only Google spreadsheet with links to the below suggestions.

*These products are compostable in a commercial facility only. Check with your waste hauler to ensure they can accept these products for composting before you buy them.

Residents Using Foam Alternatives


Here are some recommendations for finding foam alternatives in NYC and reducing waste while doing so:

  • On the go: Bring your own reusable cup when purchasing coffee.

  • Taking leftovers from restaurants: Bring your own “doggie bag.” Raid your kitchen cupboard before dinner and bring a reusable container with to fill with leftovers.

  • Having a party: Invest in a set of durable, reusable party plates, cups, bowls and utensils to reduce waste and save money.

  • Ordering catering at home or work: Ask the restaurant or caterer to bring the food in reusable metal catering trays.

If you have any questions, contact us by emailing manhattanswab1@gmail.com. We will do our best to get back to you within a few days.

Disclaimer: The information contained here is provided by waste experts on the Manhattan Solid Waste Board. Our foam alternative recommendations are included above but we recommend you do your own research as well before purchasing foam alternatives for your business or home. Please note, the foam alternative products linked above do not indicate that we support any one business over another, these are suggestions only.  

Page header image credit: https://www.greenlifestylemarket.com/blog/san-francisco-bans-polystyrene-aka-styrofoam/