New bans on polystyrene foam food containers took effect in the District of Columbia, Montgomery County, Maryland and even the South American nation Guyana on the first of January. Plastic foam cups and clamshells have been falling further out of favor since the city of Berkeley, California, outlawed them in the late 1980s. Last year the New York Supreme Court overturned New York City’s ban, but restaurants in Seattle, San Francisco and Miami Beach are among those free of the containers.
The original Styrofoam was patented by Dow Chemical in 1944, and by the 1950s was widely used to insulate buildings, float life rafts and even make Christmas ornaments. But what we think of as Styrofoam cups and takeout containers are actually made from a similar material called expanded polystyrene.
“We’ve just sort of latched onto the name Styrofoam and applied it to cups and plates and cafeteria lunchboxes and whatever else, but they’re not technically Styrofoam,” said Douglas McCauley, a marine scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.