New EPS Foam Regulations – Ready to Comply?

More and more states across the United States aim to achieve zero waste status, new regulations and bans are being implemented to help them reach their goal.

Certainly one material that is under particular focus is foam, and many states are banning or regulating how foam products are used.

New York City placed a ban on single-use foam products, after fighting a lawsuit that attempted to prevent its implementation. This made it the largest city in the U.S. to ban foam. Similar bans also exist in more than 100 other U.S. jurisdictions including Washington, DC, Portland, Maine and San Francisco. Local governments in these areas believe it must be controlled because the material is too contaminated, is made from non-renewable and polluting petroleum by-products, and lacks a sustainable market to be recycled. A wide variety of industries from fast food to medical currently rely on the use of foam products and are now looking for more sustainable alternatives. So, is your company ready for these new EPS foam regulations?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans throw away 25 billion Styrofoam (foam) cups every year.

What is EPS?

Expanded polystyrene foam (EPS), frequently mistaken for Styrofoam, is a petroleum based plastic product, made from oil. EPS foam is lightweight, sturdy, insulated and inexpensive, making it a common choice for manufacturers to develop numerous products from. Some examples are described below:

Foam cups and food service products: Including food containers, drinking cups and food trays. Foam is a staple product for many businesses, with restaurants using foam containers to package takeout food and coffee shops using foam cups to keep takeaway coffees and teas hot (or cold beverages cold).

However, there are now lots of eco-friendly alternatives to foam, including paper cups with cardboard sleeves and biodegradable containers with cornstarch-based plastic liners.

Foam packaging peanuts: Packaging peanuts, used to protect electronics, furniture, food and other breakable or perishable items from damage during transportation, were predominantly made from foam. Now, this material is often replaced by recycled paper fillers, corrugated card bubble wrap, or air pillows made from recycled materials.

Foam Coolers: EPS is used to create coolers to keep items insulated. For example, medical coolers made from EPS are used to keep vaccines and medicines at critical temperatures so that they can be shipped to hospitals and doctor’s offices. Foam cooler can also be used to keep food and drinks cold when being transported to restaurants and local markets.

Is EPS recyclable? What can companies do to reduce their EPS waste?

Since EPS is used in a wide range of products, there is a significant volume of EPS waste to be managed. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the foam coffee cup you used this morning will still be sitting in a landfill site in 500 years’ time. This is because the chemical composition of foam means that it takes an immense amount of time to break down or decompose.

When you multiply that one coffee cup by 25 billion, the scale of the environmental problem that foam creates becomes clear.

There must be a solution to manage foam waste.

Reduce or eliminate the use of EPS. There are a growing number of eco-friendly alternatives that serve the same purpose as EPS foam products. Eco-friendly alternatives for foam food and beverage packaging include biodegradable materials, corn starch or paper.

These materials are not sourced from non-renewable products, are less polluting to manufacture, and are less environmentally contaminating because they can be easily composted or recycled after they have been used.

Dunkin Donuts has developed an eco-friendly alternative to their foam hot beverage cups, which are now being used in cities like New York that have implemented a foam ban. have also moved away from using EPS foam packaging peanuts, instead either using recycled paper fillers, or inflatable packing filler to protect their products during shipment.

If reducing or eliminating the use of EPS isn’t an option, then recycling is the next step. This helps to reduce the amount of foam needed to be produced, and diverts EPS from landfills and incinerators. Although foam is recyclable, many states don’t currently include it in their recycling programs. Some foam materials can’t be recycled due to a lack of sufficient processing technology, and some can’t be recycled because it’s not economically feasible to do so due to its low value. This creates a problem, as many businesses and households therefore have to dispose of foam waste within the general waste stream that is sent to landfills.

Even better than recycling is to reuse or sell foam waste. Instead of buying new foam packing peanuts, a company can save old foam, break the bigger pieces up into smaller pieces and reuse them as “packing peanuts”. If a company uses large amounts of EPS foam on a regular basis, they can consider saving it and selling it to another company with a demand for the foam product. This will help bring an extra profit stream to the business.

Every state has different regulatory environments that pose challenges for businesses trying to understand what rules must be abided by and what goals have to be reached. National Waste Associates helps save time, money and hassle for companies with locations in multiple states. Our expertise in sustainability and compliance with recycling legislation enables us to provide customized waste and recycling solutions for every one of your locations.

For more information about our recycling solutions call 1-888-692-5005 or email

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