Both houses passed a bill that would limit the use of polystyrene containers and many single-use plastics at food establishments.
Sponsored by Sen. Trey Paradee and Rep. Paul Baumbach, Senate Bill 51 would bar restaurants from serving ready-to-eat food in containers made of polystyrene, a non-biodegradable andproduct best known by the brand name Styrofoam, starting on July 1, 2025.
The bill would further prohibit food establishments in Delaware from providing single-use plastic straws unless requested by a consumer, while also banning single-use plastic coffee stirrers, cocktail picks and sandwich picks.
“We know that polystyrene containers and single-use plastic products contribute greatly to our litter problem, but they also present a huge health concern,” said Baumbach, D-Newark. “I am honored to partner with Sen. Trey Paradee and Rep. Sophie Phillips to lead the House in passing SB 51 today. Through persistent advocacy by supporters throughout the state, we shall be able to join our neighbors in Maryland and New Jersey in protecting our residents and our environment from this harmful material.”
The Delaware General Assembly passed legislation in both 2019 and 2021 that curtailed the distribution of single-use plastic bags by Delaware grocery stores and other retailers. Restaurants received an exemption.
The House approved a series of amendments Thursday that would tighten exemptions and clarify the impact of violations on food establishments. Specifically, the amendments would:
- Remove the exceptions for fire companies and nonprofit organizations from the prohibition on providing ready-to-eat food in polystyrene foam foodservice packaging. The restaurant industry had questioned the exemption.
- Narrow the healthcare provider exception from the prohibition on providing ready-to-eat food in polystyrene foam food service packaging to only food provided to a patient or resident.
- Clarify that a food establishment’s license may not be suspended or revoked for violation of this bill and delays the penalty provision to one year after the effective date.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has listed the polystyrene manufacturing process among the largest producers of hazardous waste and a major source of ground-level ozone.
Polystyrene containers are among the most common sources of litter in Delaware and one that persists in the environment for thousands of years. Once used in food service, polystyrene can no longer be recycled. 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, bill supporters noted.
At least six states and the District of Columbia have all banned polystyrene from use in food service.
The legislation was opposed by the Delaware Restaurant Association which favored a voluntary approach and cited the added costs to a low-margin industry.
In addition to polystyrene, SB 51 also seeks to reduce single-use plastics in Delaware further.
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.
The Senate later gave final approval to the amended bill.