Beginning January 1, 2019, certain expanded polystyrene (EPS, popularly known as “styrofoam”) products have been banned for sale, distribution, and/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.” Fines for violations begin on July 1, 2019.
This page answers common questions about the ban - product alternatives, exemptions, and enforcement actions - and provides links to additional resources.
What are the most sustainable alternatives to foam packaging?
Reusable food service packaging is the most sustainable option. With it, consumers avoid disposal and get as many uses as possible. Reusable packaging significantly decreases environmental impact, for even recycling is a form of disposal. Moreover, many recyclable materials don’t make it into the recycling bin and are instead landfilled or incinerated.
In the realm of single-use products, anything made from recycled content that is relatively light in weight and recyclable by your local hauler is preferable to foam.
What about compostable foodservice packaging?
Although it is marketed as eco-friendly, compostable foodservice packaging made from agricultural products has significant environmental impacts, as a low percentage is ultimately composted.
Of the universe of available products, those made from post-consumer composted fiber are preferable to compostable serviceware made with “virgin” materials. Look for compostable products certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute. Refer to Biodegradable Products Institute (products.bpiworld.org) for a searchable database of certified compostable product companies.
Which disposable, recyclable products are most sustainable?
Aluminum products (most of which contain recycled content)
100% recycled paper packing fill
Rigid plastics, primarily #1, #2 and #5, are recyclable and contain recycled content.
What foam alternatives are available to NYC residents?
Bring your own reusable cup when purchasing coffee.
Raid your kitchen cupboard and bring a reusable container with to fill with any leftovers when visiting a restaurant
Invest in a set of durable, reusable party plates, cups, bowls and utensils to reduce waste and save money when hosting a gathering.
When ordering catering at home or work, ask the foodservice provider to bring the food in reusable metal catering trays.
Are any materials exempt from the foam ban?
Yes, several materials are exempt from the ban.
EPS containers that are filled with food and sealed before receipt by the food service establishment, mobile food commissary, or store.
EPS containers filled with raw meat, poultry, seafood, fish, pork that will be sold in a butcher case or similar retail appliance, such as a refrigerated section of a store.
Foam blocks used to protect items during shipment/transit, such as foam blocks used to protect a television or computer screen.
What businesses are covered by the ban?
Any business or store that is located in or operates in New York City, such as retail stores, food service establishments, mobile food commissaries (e.g. food trucks and food carts ) and manufacturers must comply with the ban.
Are any organizations granted exemption from the ban?
Yes. Small businesses and non-profits may apply for temporary hardship exemption from the Department of Small Business Services (SBS).
Small businesses with less than $500,000 in gross income, per location, for the most recent tax year and non-profits are allowed to apply. They may not be part of a chain food service establishment or a chain store. Proof must be provided to establish that the purchase of alternative products would create a financial hardship for the business or non-profit. SBS began accepting hardship waiver applications in the Fall of 2018. Waivers are valid for up to 12 months. Visit nyc.gov/foamwaiver for more information about the application process.
Where possible, businesses are encouraged to reuse all packaging materials they receive, including polystyrene peanuts, before disposal. The packing materials cannot be sold or offered for sale by the business.
Are NYC residents covered under the ban?
Yes. Individuals are prohibited from selling or offering for sale EPS foam, including packing peanuts. Individuals and businesses are allowed to reuse packing peanuts that have been sent to them.
Note that some business locations will accept peanuts for donation, but it is recommended to check with the individual business before attempting to donate the peanuts.
What are the fines for violating the ban?
Fines will be issued for each Notice of Violation within a 12-month period. The 12-month period and fines will reset after each 12-month period
First offense = $250
Second offense = $500
Third and all subsequent offenses = $1,000
How can citizens report violations?
To report a violation, citizens can call 311 or lodge a complaint via the 311 App. Click here for instructions about reporting a violation through the 311 App.
How often will inspections occur?
Routine inspections will occur on an annual basis, at minimum.
311 investigations will occur on an as-needed basis.
What NYC departments will be conducting the investigations?
The NYC Department of Sanitation, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and NYC Department of Consumer Affairs will be conducting the investigations.
Have other U.S. cities banned EPS?
Yes, many cities have enacted similar bans. Included among them are:
San Francisco, CA
Miami Beach, FL
San Jose, CA
Takoma Park, MD
A more comprehensive list can be found at https://www.surfrider.org/pages/polystyrene-ordinances
Have any states enacted similar foam bans?
Maine is the first state to ban polystyrene food containers. The ban will take effect on January 1, 2021.
Where can I find more information on EPS bans?
Foam ban posters are available in multiple languages to share with or post inside businesses. Click here for the English language poster, and “Foam Ban Notice” here for posters in additional languages.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions. We will do our best to get back to you within a few days.