December 07, 2023

Van Hollen, Doggett Lead Charge to Curb Foam Container Pollution to Protect Our Environment, Improve Public Health

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) introduced bicameral legislation to phase out single-use plastic foam food service products, “loose fill” such as packing peanuts, and non-medical disposable coolers – materials known to cause adverse health effects and pollute waterways. The Farewell to Foam Act will prohibit the sale and distribution of these items beginning January 2026 while aiming to support the transition to alternatives. Additional Senate cosponsors of this legislation are U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Angus King (I-Maine), Ed Markey, (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

“Single-use plastics like foam food containers don’t disappear when you throw them away – they end up choking waterways like the Chesapeake Bay and contaminating our food supply. This pollution poses a serious, growing danger to human and environmental health and causes real economic harm to those whose livelihoods depend on our waterways,” said Senator Van Hollen. “By phasing out foam and encouraging the use of more sustainable packaging, we can tackle a major driver of pollution and improve the health of our communities.”

“Plastic foam is a permanent polluter,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett. “As trash clutters our waterways, roadsides, and greenspaces, foam doesn’t fully disintegrate. Instead, it ever so slowly degrades into microplastics that pollute our bodies and our planet. This legislation, informed by successful state and local plastic foam bans, seeks a cleaner, more sustainable future for our entire country by saying farewell to foam.”

“As anyone who’s been on riverbanks or the coast can tell you, pollution in our waters is on the rise – threatening public health, economic security, and the future of our planet,” said Senator King. “The Farewell to Foam Act would phase out harmful foam food containers and single-use foam storage bins to protect our families and friends from ingesting these dangerous microplastics that have negative impacts on human health. We need bold action to tackle this global crisis, and this bill is a common-sense step we can take to reduce our dependence on this particularly harmful form of plastic.”

“Our bill would help phase out plastic foam, one of the most pernicious plastics polluting our planet. This single use plastic often contains additional toxic additives and easily breaks down into microplastics—causing macro problems to our environment and health. Unrecyclable and already banned by several states, it’s time for us to enact the Farewell to Foam Act country-wide,” said Senator Blumenthal.

“Plastic pollution is a serious crisis that harms our environment and human health, with disproportionate impacts on vulnerable communities. That is precisely why Vermont has banned single-use plastics, and the Farewell to Foam Act would do the same for polystyrene products across the country. This legislation will be critical to protecting the health and welfare of our communities, as well as tackling plastic pollution, which contributes significantly to climate change,” said Senator Welch.

Expanded polystyrene (EPS), known more commonly as plastic foam, is one of the most harmful forms of single-use plastic. These materials, which also often contain other toxic additives such as flame retardants and colorants, are known to have negative impacts on human health, with links to central nervous system damage and increased risk of cancer. Additionally, they are difficult to recycle and prone to break up into tiny pieces – or microplastics – and often wash away into the environment, especially waterways. It is estimated that Americans use at least 5.6 billion pieces of plastic foam products each year.

In 2019, Maryland became the first state in the U.S. to pass a law ending the use of plastic foam food service products. A study on the impact of the Maryland law conducted this earlier year found a 65 percent decrease in plastic foam food ware pollution on beaches and waterways in the state. Since then, ten additional states have passed similar measures.

The Farewell to Foam Act aims to build on this progress and reduce plastic foam pollution nationwide by requiring food service providers, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers to transition their stock of EPS products such as food ware, coolers, and loose packing fill to alternative materials by January 1, 2026.

The bill also authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to impose escalating penalties on establishments that violate the EPS prohibition during one calendar year: $250 for the first violation, $500 for the second violation, and $1,000 for the third and subsequent violations. Service providers and retailers with annual revenue less than $1,000,000 and manufacturers and distributors with annual revenue less than $5,000,000 will not be penalized more than once during any seven-day period. The legislation provides exemptions for EPS material used for medical, industrial, or safety purposes.

Bill text is available here.

This legislation has been endorsed by Ocean Conservancy, Alice Ferguson Foundation, Alliance for a Living Ocean, Alliance for the Great Lakes, Bainbridge Beach Naturalists, Bainbridge Island Zero Waste, Beyond Plastics, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, Cape Fear River Watch, Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research, and Education, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Clean Miami Beach, Connecticut River Conservancy, Debris Free Oceans, Environment America, Environment Maryland, Fenceline Watch, Food & Water Watch, Fountain Creek Watershed District, French Broad Riverkeeper, Friends of the Chicago River, Healthy Climate Wisconsin, Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake, Keep Nassau Beautiful, Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, Kent Island Beach Cleanups-KIBCU, Little Falls Watershed Alliance, Love the Sea, Maryland Ornithological Society, Maryland PIRG, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Moms Clean Air Force, MountainTrue, Natural Resources Defense Council, Nature Forward, The National Aquarium, Oceana, Operation SPLASH, Partners for Clean Streams, Inc., Plastic Pollution Coalition, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Reflo-Sustainable Water Solutions, Rock Creek Conservancy, Rozalia Project for a Clean Ocean, Rutherford Outdoor Coalition, Save The Bay, Save The River® Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper®, Safe Skies Maryland, Save the Sound, Seattle Aquarium, Sierra Club, Society of Conservation Biology North America, Surfrider, Sustainable Bainbridge, Tampa Bay Watch, Inc., The Last Beach Cleanup, The Last Plastic Straw, The Trash Free Maryland Advocacy Coalition, The 5 Gyres Institute, Tropical Audubon Society, Tybee Clean Beach Volunteers, Upstream, U.S. PIRG,, Water Keeper Alliance, World Wildlife Fund, and Zero Waste Washington.

“Polystyrene, or foam, is one of the most problematic types of plastic litter,” said Jennifer Driban, Chief Mission Officer at the National Aquarium. “Foam pieces are lightweight, allowing them to easily wash or blow into waterways where they quickly break down, become difficult to remove, and last for hundreds of years. Thankfully, policy efforts to limit the harmful impacts of foam pollution are highly effective. Following the enactment of legislation in Maryland to prohibit foam products in 2020, fewer foam containers have been collected during National Aquarium cleanups. Additional action is needed at the federal level to further reduce plastic foam pollution. The National Aquarium applauds Senator Van Hollen and Representative Doggett for their leadership of the Farewell to Foam Act.”

“Since 1986, volunteers with Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup have collected nearly 9 million pieces of plastic foam foodware from beaches and waterways – that makes these items among the top ten most common single-use plastics polluting our shores,” said Nick Mallos, Vice President of ocean plastics at Ocean Conservancy. “To solve the ocean plastics crisis, we must produce less plastic, full stop. Phasing out these highly polluting, effectively non-recyclable items on a national level is a critical step towards achieving this goal. Ocean Conservancy is thrilled to see Congress say farewell to foam and applauds Senator Van Hollen and Rep. Doggett for leading the effort.”

“Polystyrene foam is a pernicious plastic product that harms the environment and public health from its manufacture, use and disposal. Ending the unnecessary use of this toxic material is a critical step toward addressing the plastic crisis that threatens the health of people and the planet,” said Kate Donovan, Senior Attorney, NRDC.

“Single use plastics are a growing problem and the effects on public health and environment are real. Switching from polystyrene to less damaging alternatives is an effective way to reduce single use plastics,” said Shari Wilson, Interim Executive Director, Trash Free Maryland.

“I’m proud that Maryland was the first state to say farewell to foam because we know something we use for five minutes shouldn’t be allowed to pollute our community for hundreds of years. Now, whether we’re drinking hot chocolate in winter or having a refreshing snow-ball in summer, we’re doing so happily foam free and not having to worry about the long-lasting harm to our communities. Cheers to Senator Van Hollen and Rep. Doggett for their leadership on this critical issue,” said Emily Scarr, Director, Maryland PIRG.

“Plastic is everywhere, from the Chesapeake Bay to the depths of the Pacific, where it harms whales, sea turtles, birds and other animals. One of the most damaging types of plastic pollution is polystyrene foam, which lasts for centuries after being used to keep our food hot or cold for just a few minutes. It’s time to choose wildlife over waste, and planet over plastic, and many states have now done just that. We thank Senator Van Hollen and Rep. Doggett for introducing this bill to say farewell to foam nationwide,” said Lisa Frank, Executive Director, Environment America Research & Policy Center’s Washington Office.

“Plastic pollution is all around us and plastic foam is one of the most polluting materials – it is not recyclable and it easily breaks apart, leaking into nature and polluting environments across America. The Farewell to Foam Act, introduced by Senator Chris Van Hollen and Representative Lloyd Doggett, would phase out plastic foam over time, specifically focusing on food service ware, packaging fill, and single-use coolers. WWF supports this legislation as another important step forward in addressing the plastic pollution crisis,” said Alejandro Pérez, Senior Vice President, Policy and Government Affairs, World Wildlife Fund.

“The only foam we should see in the ocean is on the waves, but unfortunately plastic foam ends up on our beaches, along waterways, and in the ocean. Plastic foam’s harmful impacts and persistence in our environment demand immediate attention if we are to effectively combat the growing plastic pollution crisis. Oceana applauds Senator Chris Van Hollen and Representative Lloyd Doggett for taking the lead on banning plastic foam, a problematic material that hurts our oceans and communities, and its continued production fuels the climate crisis. So far, 11 states and hundreds of cities have passed laws to phase out plastic foam, and now is the time for a nationwide ban. For the sake of our environment and our own health, we call on Congress to swiftly pass the Farewell to Foam Act,” said Christy Leavitt, campaign director at Oceana.