Polystyrene Ordinance

The Cambridge Polystyrene Ordinance takes effect October 20, 2016. The ordinance affects all food and drink establishments that serve food or drink in single-use disposable service-ware. This includes but is not limited to cups, plates, bowls, hinged or lidded containers, straws, cup lids, and utensils. Food establishments such as restaurants and fast food stores, grocery and convenience stores, beverage retailers, and other retailers must comply with this ordinance. Food establishment shall include any fixed or mobile place whether permanent, transient, temporary, private, public, or non-profit or any other place in which food or drink is prepared for sale or for service to the public routinely. If you’re unsure if the ordinance applies to your business, please contact us at 617-349-4815. Click here to read the ordinance. 

The purpose of the Ordinance is to advance solid waste reduction and protect the health of Cambridge citizens. Polystyrene food and beverage containers are expensive to recycle and are not biodegradable. Studies have shown that polystyrene food containers may leach harmful chemicals into food and beverages. 

With this change, we encourage businesses to explore ways to reduce waste and save money. The City recommends food establishments consider reusable service-ware for consumption on their premises. For example, encourage reusable mug use for coffee. Switch from disposable plates to reusable plates. 

When you must use single-use service-ware, switch to other recyclable options. Recyclable plastic products include Polyethylene (PET or #1 plastic), High Density Polyethylene (HDPE or #2 plastic), or Polypropylene (PP or #5 plastic). BottleBox is a great option because it is made from recycled plastics and is recyclable itself. Aluminum and paper products are also OK. 

To report non-compliance or issues at a Food Establishment, please use this form.

Resources for Businesses

Last fall the Cambridge City Council adopted a Polystyrene Ordinance, which will prohibit retail establishments from dispensing prepared food in polystyrene food containers. This Ordinance goes into effect October 20, 2016.

What is the purpose of this Ordinance?
The purpose of the Ordinance is to reduce waste and protect public health. Polystyrene does not biodegrade, and is hard to recycle. Studies show that polystyrene containers may leach harmful chemicals into food and beverages.

What is polystyrene?
Polystyrene is a type of plastic that includes expanded polystyrene (“Styrofoam”) and rigid polystyrene (all other #6 plastics). Common examples of rigid polystyrene could include cup lids, plastic condiment cups, Solo® cups, and clamshell food containers. How can I tell if the food containers we give to customers are made of polystyrene? Polystyrene products are marked with the abbreviation “PS” or a “6” inside the chasing arrows recycling symbol.

How do I know if this ordinance applies to my business?
This ordinance applies to all businesses in Cambridge that store, prepare, package, serve, vend, or otherwise provide food for human consumption. If your business dispenses food or beverage that you serve or prepare on site, it cannot be served to customers in single‐use disposable polystyrene.

What are my alternatives?
We encourage businesses to offer reusable products wherever possible. When you must use single‐use products, consider recyclable options such as PET/ #1 plastic, HDPE/ #2 plastic, or PP/ #5 plastic. Aluminum and paper products are also permitted. See back page for more information.

How can I get more information and assistance?


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