DENVER — Styrofoam has become part of most Americans’ daily lives, from packaging to food containers and more. It’s abundant because it’s cheap to produce, lightweight and convenient.
However, the plastic foam is used for a relatively short amount of time but lives on for hundreds of years.
The problem with this type of plastic is that it is also not easily recycled and most curbside bins across the country do not accept it, so it mostly ends up in landfills.
“Unfortunately, it's one of the most common plastics that we're finding on beaches around the world,” said Christy Leavitt, the U.S. plastics campaign director for Oceana. “It's lightweight, it breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces that eventually become what are called tiny microplastics, and then the foam spreads easily, both in the air and in our waterways and it's really difficult to clean up.”
So far, 11 states and Washington, D.C. have passed laws to phase out plastic foam food containers and other products. More than 250 cities across the country have also passed policies to limit plastic foam.
Now, Congress is considering the Farewell to Foam act that would take those phase-out efforts to a national level.
The bill calls for a ban on Styrofoam by January 2026 for cups, food containers, packing peanuts, coolers and more. Companies who do not follow the new rules would be fined. It does have some exemptions for medical coolers.
“Oceana released a poll earlier this year that found 72% of American voters support policies to reduce plastic foam to reduce plastic foam food and wear packing peanuts and coolers,” Leavitt said.
The group says it’s also seen measurable results in the cities that have chosen to phase the product out.
“In the Anacostia River that flows through Washington DC saw a 90% reduction in foam pollution five years after a foam ban went into effect in Washington DC. So, a really significant decrease in foam,” Leavitt said. “Also, the Baltimore Harbor up in Baltimore Maryland saw a 80% reduction in foam pollution following a foam ban there.”
The bill is facing opposition from producers and industry groups. However, advocates hope the Farewell to Foam Act will change the landscape of plastic use in the country.