Start saying goodbye to some foam containers on January 1st

The material, often marketed as polystyrene, is used in food packaging, but contributes greatly to environmental waste, polluting waterways and harming wildlife.

The material breaks easily but takes hundreds of years to biodegrade, making it susceptible to becoming microplastics, according to the State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The material is also not accepted by most state recycling programs because it is difficult to recycle, easily contaminates recycling and “is often soiled,” according to the DEC.

The statewide ban applies to all expanded polystyrene foams used as “bulk filler” – so-called packing peanuts – and containers used in catering, including bowls, cartons, hinged “clamshell” containers, cups, lids, plates, trays and any other container generally considered to be single use.

Expanded polystyrene foam can retain heat, does not leak, and is less expensive than other packaging materials, making it a prime candidate for temporary food storage. The DEC conducts awareness activities with food service providers to inform them of the new law.

Food service providers must find other packaging materials, but supply chain issues make aluminum – a potential replacement for the material – difficult to find.

Nearly two-thirds of New Yorkers already live in communities that ban the material, according to DEC State Commissioner Basil Seggos.

Albany banned the use of the materials by chains in 2013 and at all foodservice establishments in 2018.

A provision in the new regulations allows nonprofits and government agencies that provide free food to low-income people to continue using the equipment.

After the law comes into force on January 1, the DEC will publish its final regulations in the coming months.

Lee J. Murillo