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Gov. Tina Kotek signs ban on Styrofoam food containers into law

Written by: Mirella Barrera-Betancourt

Beginning in 2025, restaurants and food vendors in Oregon will be required to ditch the use of styrofoam takeout containers under a new law passed by the Oregon Legislature. 

On Monday, May 8, Gov. Tina Kotek signed a ban on plastic polystyrene foam containers into law — making Oregon the ninth state in the United States to ban the usage, sale and distribution of the plastic foam containers.

The fight towards the ban on polystyrene foam containers was a long time coming, according to  lawmakers. On Wednesday, Apr. 26, Senate Bill 543 cleared the House with a 40-18 vote. On Monday, Apr. 3, the bill was passed by the Oregon Senate with a 20-9 vote. 

The recently signed Senate Bill 543 would phase out the common polystyrene foam used for takeout containers, which advocates claim is quick to break down into small particles and pollute the ecosystem. The new law would equally prohibit businesses from using and selling foam packing peanuts, as well as single-use foam coolers. 

The new law joins Oregon with the likes of Colorado, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Virginia and Washington in outlawing the use of polystyrene. Meanwhile, the cities of Ashland, Eugene, Florence, Lincoln City, Medford, Milwaukie, Newport, Portland and Silverton have already passed ordinances prohibiting the sale of polystyrene foam for prepared meals.

The history of bans outlining environmental concerns have been abundant throughout the state. 

A similar bill suggesting a ban on styrofoam takeout containers was rejected by the Oregon Senate in 2019, with a 15-14 vote out of the 16 votes required. In 2020, stores and restaurants became strictly barred from providing single-use plastic bags, replacing them with paper bags and the option for a more ecological form of a plastic bag for a small charge. In 2019, an additional law was imposed that forbade restaurants from providing single-use plastic straws unless requested by the customer. 

Over the years, both environmental activists and advocates of the ban have brought up a multitude of issues surrounding the use of single-use styrofoam takeout containers. For one, styrofoam containers are not accepted in curbside recycling. 

Furthermore, styrofoam containers contain poly-fluorinated substances — known as “forever chemicals” — which are used by restaurants and food vendors for grease and waterproofing. These chemicals accumulate in abundance in the environment and have been linked to reproductive issues, cancer, high cholesterol and immune system suppression

“Polystyrene is a threat to the health of our communities and our land,” said Senator Janeen Sollman, a chief sponsor of Senate Bill 543. “This is a step towards a more sustainable and mindful approach to consumption and a commitment to preserving the health, beauty, and diversity of Oregon for generations to come.” 

Senate Bill 545 was signed by Gov. Tina Kotek alongside Senate Bill 543, which directs the Oregon Health Authority to create rules and regulations for vendors regarding personal reusable food containers for takeout and leftover meals. This second law makes it legal for the public to utilize their own reusable takeout containers.

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