Limited Use of Styrofoam Containers & Single-Use Plastics Passes DE Senate


Polystyrene, or Styrofoam, containers and many single-use plastics are one step closer to limited use at Delaware food establishments. Senate Bill 51 would bar restaurants from serving ready-to-eat food in styrofoam containers and prohibit the providing of single-use straws, unless requested by the consumer, as well as single-use plastic coffee stirrers, cocktail picks and sandwich picks – beginning July 1 of 2025. SB 51 was passed in the State Senate by a 14 to 5 vote with 1 not voting and 1 absent. SB 51 is now awaiting action in the State House.

Additional information from the Senate Majority Caucus: If passed by the Delaware House and signed by Governor John Carney, Senate Bill 57 would mark another important step forward in Delaware’s recent efforts to prevent single-use plastics from ending up in streams, rivers, forests, beaches, and landfills. The Delaware General Assembly passed legislation in both 2019 and 2021 that significantly curtailed the distribution of single-use plastic bags by Delaware grocery stores and other retailers.  

Polystyrene presents significant risks to the health of consumers and the environment during its creation, use and disposal.   

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has long listed the polystyrene manufacturing process among the largest producers of hazardous waste and a major source of ground-level ozone, a common contributor to poor air quality and a higher incidence of asthma.  

According to the World Health Organization, styrene – the building block from which polystyrene is made – is a probable carcinogen. In 2018, the findings of an impartial working group led by the WHO and the International Agency for Research on Cancer found that the previous label of “possibly carcinogenic” was insufficient and upgraded their warning following a review of human epidemiological studies and animal experiments. When used to serve hot foods and liquids like coffee and soup, styrene and benzene are often released and ingested. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and National Toxicology Program (NTP) listed styrene as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” in 2011.  

Polystyrene also is one of the most littered materials in Delaware – one that persists in the environment for thousands of years. Once used in food service, polystyrene can no longer be recycled resulting in tremendous amounts of waste. Over time, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, which are commonly ingested by wildlife and passed into the food chain or water supply.  

Between 2008 and 2019, thousands of pieces of polystyrene litter were found along Delaware beaches during annual coastal cleanup events including 2,528 takeout containers, 2,626 cups and plates, and 15,0644 other pieces of polystyrene. A 2018 study of visible litter along Delaware highways found an average of 498 pieces of polystyrene litter per mile.  

At least six states and the District of Columbia have all banned polystyrene from use in food service due to its serious health and environmental risks.  

In addition to polystyrene, SB 51 also seeks to further reduce single-use plastics in Delaware.  

Plastic straws would remain available by customer request – a key compromise with disability advocates who have pointed to the importance of plastic straws for some customers. Single-service plastic coffee stirrers and plastic picks used for sandwiches and cocktails would be banned outright under the legislation.