What You Need to Know About the NYS Polystyrene Foam Ban

For immediate release: December 14th, 2020

What You Need to Know About the NYS Polystyrene Foam Ban

New York State’s ban on the sale of polystyrene foam food service containers and loose fill packing materials goes into effect on January 1st, 2022. Polystyrene foam, or expanded polystyrene (EPS), is often referred to as “Styrofoam™”. Here is some information related to the ban that residents and businesses can take into consideration:

Why is the ban going into effect?

EPS has long been an environmental and waste management concern. Like other forms of single use plastic, EPS requires energy and oil to produce. The material takes up space in landfills, and cannot be recycled in most places (including Tompkins County). When it makes its way into the recycling stream, EPS breaks apart and contaminates recyclable materials. It’s also one of the most common forms of litter found in the environment. The State’s ban aims to eliminate the problem at the source and promote alternatives such as reusable, natural, recycled, or recyclable products.

Who does the ban affect?

The ban applies to:

  • Covered food service providers, which the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) lists as: Any person selling or distributing prepared food or beverages, including restaurants, grocery stores, delis, coffee shops, caterers, food trucks and street vendors, hospitals, schools, adult care facilities and nursing homes, cafeterias, hotels, motels and inns, community meal programs, sporting venues, amusement parks, summer camps, correctional facilities, and faith-based organizations;
  • Stores that sell or distribute single-use food service containers or loose fill packaging in New York State;
  • Loose fill manufacturers who sell or distribute polystyrene foam loose fill in New York State.

Exemptions and waivers exist under the law. The ban for example, does not apply to:

  • Packaging for unprepared meat, fish, pork, and poultry;
  • Prepackaged food filled or sealed prior to receipt at a covered food service provider;
  • Non-foam polystyrene.

Renewable 12-month waivers can be applied for by not-for-profit and government agencies that provide food/meals to food-insecure individuals, and covered food service providers that are under a certain size. More information on waivers can be found on the NYSDEC website.

What can I use instead?

There are many alternatives to expanded polystyrene products. First and foremost, food service providers should consider implementing reusable options when suitable, such as with on-site dining. Switching from single-use to reusable food service ware has been shown to reduce costs and waste for businesses. For takeaway service, or other situations where reuse is not viable, consider the following substitutes for EPS food service containers:

  • Recyclable materials like aluminum and #1, 2, or 5 plastic containers. Please note that these should be clean before being recycled;
  • Natural materials like bagasse, bamboo and bamboo leaf, wheat fiber and wheat straw, wood, and mushroom based products. Some of these materials can be made from agricultural byproducts, saving natural resources;
  • Materials made with recycled content;
  • Compostable food service options. Please note that these are not accepted through current local composting programs.

In place of EPS packaging fill, other forms of fill such as starch peanuts, plastic film air pillows and bubble wrap, or paper fiber may be used.

Where can I find more information?

The NYSDEC has more information available for businesses including:

Is technical assistance available for businesses in Tompkins County?

The ReBusiness Partners program from Tompkins County Recycling and Materials Management is designed to support local businesses and organizations’ efforts to reduce waste, increase recycling and composting, and adopt green purchasing practices. Businesses receive a free waste assessment and report, recycling bins and signs, and public recognition. Interested businesses should email Nancy Webster at nwebster@tompkins-co.org to inquire.

Please note: This press release is meant to be a general guide for Tompkins County residents and businesses. Please visit the NYSDEC website for the most accurate and up-to-date language on the law and specific questions.


Nancy Webster

Waste Reduction and Recycling Specialist

Tompkins Recycling & Materials Management


(607) 273-6632