Published on: Thursday, July 9, 2015 Takoma Park Newsletter

Takoma Park pioneers polystyrene ban

By Nima Upadhyay and Stephen Rabent

On July 1, the City-wide ban on polystyrene-composed packaging and foodservice wares took effect for food-service facilities in Takoma Park. Passed unanimously by the City Council on Nov. 10, 2014, the resolution prohibits food-service facilities from using polystyrenecomposed packaging or food-service ware (plastic resin code #6), when providing prepared foods for on-site or take-away consumption. Members of the Young Activist Club from Piney Branch Elementary School were instrumental in introducing the issue to the Council and sustaining the momentum needed to get the resolution passed.

The ban makes the ubiquitous “clamshell” polystyrene foam take-out container, among other foam and rigid polystyrene products, a relic of the past for Takoma Park residents. More sustainable products are replacing these, which are widely understood to be nonrenewable and heavily polluting, since they do not break down easily. Also, the products are made of styrene, a known neurotoxin that is reasonably anticipated to be carcinogenic.

Violations of the ordinance could result in a Class C municipal infraction, which carries a $200 fine for the first offense and a $400 fine for repeat offenses.

Containers made of compostable plastic, plant fiber, and recycled paper will be the new norm for residents grabbing lunch on the go from one of the many local restaurants in the city. These products also often have the environmental benefit of being compostable, in addition to recyclable. The ordinance is a component of Takoma Park’s efforts to decrease its environmental footprint, protect public health, and achieve a more sustainable future.

Other Bans in the Region

Takoma Park is not the only area that is working to decrease litter, keep the Chesapeake Bay clean, and become more sustainable through a ban on polystyrene. The District of Columbia has also passed a law banning the use of expanded polystyrene (foam), which enters into effect on Jan. 1, 2016. This law also includes the requirement that all food-service ware be recyclable or compostable by Jan. 1, 2017. Montgomery County has also prohibited the use and sale of expanded polystyrene food-service products and the sale of polystyrene loose fill packaging, effective Jan. 1, 2016, with the same additional requirement that food-service wares are compostable or recyclable by Jan. 2017.

The county ban on polystyrene does contain different provisions than the Takoma Park ordinance. It is accessible through the Public Works Department website. Most recently, Prince George’s County banned the sale of expanded polystyrene food-service wares and packaging materials, beginning in July 2016.

Business Impact

Takoma Park’s ban will apply to all food-service facilities, including restaurants, coffee-shops, retail markets and take-out counters, within the city. Those most directly affected will be local restaurants and food-related businesses that have carry-out meals as a large portion of their daily sales. A few businesses within the city have already stopped the use of polystyrene products ahead of the ban. Capital City Cheesecake, for example, uses items that are either compostable or recyclable.

For those who have not yet made the transition, cost considerations will be a concern, but city staff estimate that costs will actually be relatively minor. Products composed of alternative materials are readily available from a wide range of food-service ware suppliers, both locally and online, so finding an adequate replacement to polystyrene should be simple. For specific comparisons, businesses (and interested residents) will find an extensive product and cost inventory and cost comparisons of alternative material food-service wares on the Public Works Department website. Also, businesses can request a waiver from the city manager due to safety or health reasons, a lack of polystyrene alternatives, or other hardship conditions.

City resources

The Public Works Department has a comprehensive web page with information, frequently asked questions, and resources for business owners and residents to use to learn more about the polystyrene ban and how it impacts them. Some of these include:

  • A description of alternative materials to replace polystyrene products and a link to a third-party verification organization to check to see if the item is compostable.
  • A list of 16 vendors and manufacturers of polystyrene alternatives including their contact information and a brief description of the products they offer.
  • A product and cost inventory of foodservice ware polystyrene alternatives.
  • A detailed cost analysis document on the expected costs of the transition.

Additional questions can be directed to Nima Upadhyay at or the Public Works Department at 301-891-7633.


The polystyrene ban will be enforced through citizen reports and complaints regarding food-service facilities that are continuing to use polystyrene products. Violations of the ordinance could result in a Class C municipal infraction, which carries a $200 fine for the first offense and a $400 fine for repeat offenses. To report a violation of the ordinance, contact Public Works at 301-891-7633.

This article appeared in the July 2015 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.