The Oregon Senate on Monday passed a bill that would ban prepared food vendors from using foam containers that can take centuries to decompose. (Photo by Prylarer/Pixabay via Canva)

The Oregon Senate on Monday passed a bill that would ban prepared food venders from using foam containers, which take centuries to decompose. 

Senate Bill 543 banning polystyrene takeout containers, also called Styrofoam, a trademarked name, passed  20-9, with bipartisan support. It now goes to the House. 

“Polystyrene is a threat to the health of our communities and our land,” said Sen. Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro, a chief sponsor of the bill. “This is a step towards a more sustainable and mindful approach to consumption and a commitment to preserving the health, beauty, and diversity of Oregon for generations to come.”

Polystyrene is a petroleum-based plastic and was commercially produced starting in the 1930s. The nonbiodegradable material has been in the crosshairs of environmentalists for decades. In 1986, the Environmental Protection Agency declared the polystyrene manufacturing process the fifth largest source of hazardous waste. 

They are also a source of litter, and the foam can break down into tiny pieces, posing a hazard to wildlife and polluting waterways.

In areas where the containers are banned, vendors can use other options such as paper cups and cardboard food containers.

The measure, if passed, would go into effect in 2025 and apply to a variety of prepared food vendors, including restaurants, delis and food trucks and carts. Food vendors would face a fine of up to $100 a day for violations. 

The nine senators opposed to the measure included eight Republicans and Sen. Brian Boquist, I-Dallas. 

Sen. Art Robinson, R-Cave Junction, said the bill is another example of a restriction on businesses. 

“Here we go again,” Robinson said in a statement explaining his vote. “Another small requirement. We are now deciding what disposable containers restaurants may use.”

Local ordinances banning polystyrene foam foodware products have passed in Oregon cities, including Portland, Ashland, Eugene, Florence, Lincoln City, Medford, Milwaukie, Newport and Silverton.

Other states have passed laws limiting polystyrene, including Washington, Colorado,  Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Vermont and Virginia.

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Ben Botkin, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. He has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Most recently, he covered health care and the Oregon Legislature for The Lund Report.