Polystyrene Foam

Expanded polystyrene foam, commonly but inaccurately known by the trade name Styrofoam (which is a material produced for building insulation or craftwork[1],), has been in use since the 1960s. Because of its light weight, impact absorption, insulation qualities, and low price, it has been particularly popular for making disposable packaging and food ware. Of late, polystyrene foam service ware has become a concern for the environment as well as human health and safety. It is one of the top 10 contributors to environmental litter. It is not biodegradable, is resistant to photo-oxidization, and is difficult to recycle. Currently in Maine, polystyrene foam is not collected for recycling and must be treated as trash. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Toxicology Program has listed styrene, a chemical found in expanded polystyrene foam, as a reasonably anticipated human carcinogen that can be transferred from expanded polystyrene foam containers into food and beverages that people consume[2].

Polystyrene Foam Food Service Container Ban

To protect people and the environment, reduce litter, and keep polystyrene out of the waste stream, in 2019 the Maine legislature passed a statewide ban on certain expanded polystyrene foam products 38 MRSA Chapter 15-A. The Department has prepared a guidance/FAQ fact sheet that outlines this ban.

Under this ban, all businesses that meet the definition of a "food establishment" can no longer use polystyrene foam food service containers. In general, most stores, food packing facilities, and home meal delivery businesses meet the definition of a food establishment. There are some exemptions for certain uses, such as for foam coolers for processing or shipping seafood. Definitions and exemptions are described in the guidance document.

Please e-mail polystyrenefoam@maine.gov with any questions regarding the ban.

Effective Date

January 1, 2021

Other Polystyrene Foam uses

This ban does not affect the use of polystyrene foam for other non-food service container uses such as plates, cups, and coolers for home use. Nor does it ban the use of polystyrene foam "packing peanuts". However, because of the non-recyclable nature of polystyrene foam and the costs associated with trash disposal, its use is discouraged.

Currently, the best way to "recycle" polystyrene foam is through re-use. When purchasing and using polystyrene foam products, consider if and how they can be re-used. How to recycle packing peanuts.

Other Sources of Polystyrene Foam Information

Maine is not the only State that has banned polystyrene foam food service ware; New York and Maryland (and others) have also banned polystyrene foam. Vermont has banned certain polystyrene foam products as part of their "Single-Use" Products law.