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Foam Food Container Ordinance Now in Effect

San José's Foam Food Container Ordinance is now in effect, requiring compliance from multi-state restaurant chains in 2014, the first year of the ordinance. The second phase took effect at all other restaurants, including mobile and street vendors, on January 1, 2015.

The Foam Food Container Ordinance, adopted by the San José City Council on September 10, 2013, aims to reduce a pervasive and persistent type of litter by banning food service ware containers made from expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam, commonly referred to as Styrofoam™*.

Food service ware made from EPS foam is uniquely problematic when it becomes litter. EPS foam is a durable material that does not degrade. It breaks easily into tiny pieces, making it difficult to clean up. Those small pieces are often mistaken as food by fish and wildlife, and are harmful to their health. Litter in San José creeks is a significant environmental issue.

Twenty-six creeks in the Bay Area, including Guadalupe River and Coyote Creek in San José, have been declared as impaired by trash by the State Water Resources Control Board. In 2009, the State Board required that all cities and agencies with a permit to discharge stormwater develop litter reduction plans and take actions to reduce litter from the storm sewer system by 40 percent by 2014, 70 percent by 2017, and 100 percent by 2022.

San José is the largest city in the nation to adopt a Foam Food Container Ordinance. With San José, 71 California cities and local agencies have now adopted EPS bans according to Californians Against Waste


The ordinance (Refer to Chapter 9.10, Part 17) began on January 1, 2014 at multi-state restaurants, and at all other restaurants and smaller establishments, including mobile and street vendors, on January 1, 2015, with the following provisions:

  • Requires all restaurants to use non-foam food service ware but does not prescribe an alternative, allowing restaurants to choose what best meets their business needs; and
  • Provides financial hardship and unique packaging exemptions.

Resources for Restaurants

The Foam Food Container Ordinance trilingual fact sheet contains an ordinance overview and transition tips to help restaurants understand how the new ordinance affects them.

The list of Foam Food Container Alternatives and Pricing can be used to find competitively priced non-foam food containers. For a product and materials glossary and vendor listing, view and download the August 2015 Reference Guide.  

*Although EPS is commonly referred to as “Styrofoam,” the trademarked material manufactured by Dow Chemical is not used for food containers.