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Most EPS foam containers banned from sale and distribution in WA starting June 1

2021 state law ends era of clamshell containers, plates, bowls, cups, trays, and coolers made of expanded polystyrene

Your to-go box and other food service items will be changing starting this summer. Beginning June 1, restaurants, businesses, organizations, or other institutions will no longer be able to provide expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam coolers, cups, trays, bowls, or clamshell containers to customers. 

Alternatives are available and already in wide use as most restaurants have already made the switch, however Washingtonians may still come across these items when they take food home from them. 

The restrictions are the latest phase in a 2021 law that seeks to reduce the use of plastic products that frequently end up as trash and litter. The EPS food service product restrictions apply to anyone who sells or distributes EPS foam products. This includes retail, restaurants, coffee shops and drive-throughs, health care and correctional facilities, institutions, government entities, organizations, and schools.

“Single-use plastic foam products are cheap to buy, but their environmental cost is high,” said Peter Lyon, Solid Waste Management program manager for the Washington Department of Ecology, which is responsible for implementing the plastics law. “Expanded polystyrene is difficult to recycle and often ends up becoming litter. There are many alternatives available, so switching away from these materials should be an easy step for businesses and consumers.”

Items not included in the EPS foam ban are egg cartons,  packaging for raw, uncooked, or butchered meat fish, poultry, seafood, vegetables, and fruit. Visit Ecology’s EPS ban website for a full list of banned and exempted EPS products.

Most EPS products do not get recycled because they are often not accepted in curbside recycling bins or at local recycling facilities in Washington. Ecology’s 2022 litter study estimated that 1 million pieces of EPS foam cups, bowls and clamshells, and 191 million pieces of other EPS foam products accumulate across state each year.

Restrictions start with education, but penalties are possible

Ecology intends to initially focus its efforts on educating businesses about the law and alternatives to EPS products, but the law includes penalties of $250 for the first offense, and $1,000 for additional incidents where businesses don’t comply with the restrictions. 

Ecology has been working to inform businesses about the new restrictions for more than a year. 

The public can submit reports of businesses not following the law through Ecology’s EPS Ban website.

Other ways Ecology works on the plastic problem

Washington is making aggressive efforts to improve recycling and waste reduction, thanks to a number of laws passed in recent years. In 2021, the Legislature passed a plastics law requiring manufacturers to use a minimum percentage of recycled content in their products. The law also restricted the use of single-use serviceware like plastic utensils, and restricted the use of EPS foam in products like takeout containers. Other recent laws have banned single-use plastic bags and exposed EPS foam blocks in docks. EPS packing peanuts were banned for sale and distribution in or into Washington stating June 2023.

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