Come 2017, selling any polystyrene product will be prohibited.
San Franciscans, bid adieu to Styrofoam. On Tuesday, the city unanimously passed an ordinance banning the sale of any product made from polystyrene, the petroleum-based compound that’s molded into disposable dishware, packing materials, and beach toys—among other things. Even though it’s commonly known as Styrofoam, that’s just a name-brand owned by the Dow Chemical Company.
It’s not SF’s first such restriction. In 2007, the city prohibited the use of polystyrene use in all to-go food containers. More than 100 cities, along with Washington, DC, now have similar laws in place. (The first Styrofoam ban was passed in 1988 by the city of Berkeley.) But San Francisco’s new ordinance, part of the city’s goal of “zero waste” by 2020, is the broadest yet. As of January 1, 2017, it will be unlawful to sell polystyrene packing materials (those infuriating foam peanuts, for instance), day-use coolers, trays used in meat and fish packaging, and even foam dock floats and mooring buoys.
Polystyrene’s story begins in the first half of the 20th century, but it didn’t become a staple of our everyday lives until the second half, when world production of plastic resins increased 25 fold. Before long, polystyrene was synonymous with take-out food, barbeque plates, and disposable coffee cups—Americans today still use an estimated 25 billion foam cups each year.