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Foam Ban Information Page

Ban on EPS, commonly referred to as styrofoam or foam, went into effect Jan. 1, 2019.

On July 17th, 2018, Santa Barbara City Council voted unanimously to add an ordinance prohibiting the distribution and retail sale of expanded polystyrene food and beverage containers to the consent calendar. The ordinance was then adopted on July 24th, 2018.

Expanded polystyrene is commonly referred to as "styrofoam" or "foam". EPS is not recyclable in Santa Barbara. EPS products often find their way into the local environment since EPS breaks down into smaller pieces and is so light that it floats in water and is easily carried by the wind, even when it has been disposed of properly. It is in the City's interest to establish programs and services that reduce the amount of litter in the environment, in particular beach litter and marine pollution, which increases the quality of life for residents and visitors, and protects local wildlife habitat.

Expanded Polystyrene Food Container and Product Ordinance Summary

Resources for Businesses:

When does it go into effect?

This ordinance became operative at 2:01am on January 1st, 2019.

What does it do?

  • Prohibits any food or beverage vendor from distributing expanded polystyrene. This includes, but is not limited to, dine-in orders, to-go orders, and food or beverage products packaged in the City of Santa Barbara that do not meet the ordinance exemptions.
  • Prohibits any retailer from selling or otherwise providing any expanded polystyrene product which is not wholly encapsulated. For instance, coolers made only from expanded polystyrene are banned but plastic coolers that have expanded polystyrene sealed within the plastic container are allowed.

What types of expanded polystyrene (EPS) products are prohibited by the ban?

Examples include, but are not limited to

  • foam cups, plates, clamshells, bowls, trays, etc.
  • foam coolers

Who does this affect?

  • Food & Beverage Providers - any person located within the City that is a retailer of prepared food or beverages for public consumption including, but not limited to, any store, supermarket, delicatessen, restaurant, shop, caterer or mobile food vendor.
  • City facilities or any City-sponsored event

What are the alternatives to expanded polystyrene?

1) Reusable Containers are the best alternative!

For residents that frequent coffee, smoothie, or food vendors, we recommend making a reusable cup or food container part of your daily routine. You can bring one for leftovers or even to-go orders, just order "for here" and then transfer to your container.

Reusable containers are available at many retailers and come in a range of materials. If you bring your reusable cup, many vendors also offer discounts.

For businesses, encouraging patrons to bring a reusable cup or food container can save you money on decreased disposable container costs. Setup a "transfer table" for residents that would like to order To-Go food and use their reusable container instead of disposables. Some business types can even try to close-the-loop on their products by offering incentives for patrons to bring back the original container that the product was sold in; then clean and sanitize containers for reuse. If you currently provide disposables for dine-in patrons, consider using reusable dishware instead and it could save you money on your trash bill.

If you have any questions about alternative materials or how to incorporate more reusables in your business, please reach out to one of our City Recycling Coordinators at (805) 564-5631. We're here to help!

2) Single-use Alternatives

Paper or fiber products: If a reusable option isn't available, sustainable sourced paper or fiber products come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. However, paper or fiber products that have food or water on them are not recyclable. 

Single-use plastics are another alternative but if they are not clean and dry (meaning they have food or water residue) they cannot be recycled. If food and water soiled plastic food containers are thrown in the blue bin they could contaminate the rest of the recyclables rendering all of your recyclables as trash.

What are the exemptions?

The following foods or products are exempt from the provisions of this Chapter:

  • Foods prepared or packaged outside the City and then sold within the City.
  • Raw meat, fish, and other raw food trays.
  • Products made from expanded polystyrene which are wholly encapsulated or encased by a more durable material. Examples include surfboards, life preservers, and craft supplies which are wholly encapsulated or encased by a more durable material, and coolers encased in hard plastic.
  • Construction products made from expanded polystyrene are exempt from this Chapter if the products are used in compliance with Title 22, Environmental Policy and Construction, and Chapter 22.87, Stormwater Management for Development and redevelopment Projects, and used in a manner preventing the expanded polystyrene from being released into the environment.
  • During a locally declared emergency, the City, emergency response agencies operating within the City, users of City facilities, and food providers shall be exempt from the provisions of this Chapter.
  • Expanded polystyrene packaging products which have been received from sources outside the City may be reused in order to keep the products out of the waste stream.

Other exemptions that require an application:

  • Financial Hardship or Practical Difficulty Exemption: Food or beverage providers can apply for an exemption from this ordinance for up to one-year by demonstrating, in writing to the City Finance Director, that this ordinance would create an undue hardship or practical difficulty as evidenced by no alternatives being available or such alternatives are not affordable to the food provider or beverage provider. 
  • Public Health and Safety Exemption: Food or beverage providers can apply for an exemption from this ordinance by demonstrating, in writing to the City Finance Director, that there is a public health and safety requirement or medical necessity to use the product. 

Helpful Resources

For exemption application and approval process specifics please review the Full Ordinance Text.

Our recycling outreach team is here to answer any questions about the ordinance and to help you find styrofoam alternatives. You can reach us by emailing or by calling our office at (805) 564-5631.

Last Updated: Dec 21, 2018
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