Press Release

Welch Joins Bicameral Legislation to Curb Foam Container Pollution to Protect Our Environment, Improve Public Health

Dec 7, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Peter Welch (D-Vt.) joined Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) in introducing bicameral legislation to phase out single-use plastic foam food service products, “loose fill” such as packing peanuts, and non-medical disposable coolers – materials known to cause adverse health effects and pollute waterways. The Farewell to Foam Act will prohibit the sale and distribution of these items beginning January 2026 while aiming to support the transition to alternatives. Additional Senate cosponsors of this legislation are U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Angus King (I-Maine), Ed Markey, (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

“Polystyrene takes more than 500 years to decompose in Vermont’s landfills, meaning our packing peanuts will adversely impact and outlive our grandchildren—future generations deserve better. Plastic pollution is a serious crisis that harms our environment and human health, with disproportionate impacts on vulnerable communities. That is precisely why Vermont has banned single-use plastics, and the Farewell to Foam Act would do the same for polystyrene products across the country. This legislation will be critical to protecting the health and welfare of our communities, as well as tackling plastic pollution, which contributes significantly to climate change,” said Senator Welch.

“Single-use plastics like foam food containers don’t disappear when you throw them away – they end up choking waterways like the Chesapeake Bay and contaminating our food supply. This pollution poses a serious, growing danger to human and environmental health and causes real economic harm to those whose livelihoods depend on our waterways,” said Senator Van Hollen. “By phasing out foam and encouraging the use of more sustainable packaging, we can tackle a major driver of pollution and improve the health of our communities.”

“Plastic foam is a permanent polluter,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett. “As trash clutters our waterways, roadsides, and greenspaces, foam doesn’t fully disintegrate. Instead, it ever so slowly degrades into microplastics that pollute our bodies and our planet. This legislation, informed by successful state and local plastic foam bans, seeks a cleaner, more sustainable future for our entire country by saying farewell to foam.”

“As anyone who’s been on riverbanks or the coast can tell you, pollution in our waters is on the rise – threatening public health, economic security, and the future of our planet,” said Senator King. “The Farewell to Foam Act would phase out harmful foam food containers and single-use foam storage bins to protect our families and friends from ingesting these dangerous microplastics that have negative impacts on human health. We need bold action to tackle this global crisis, and this bill is a common-sense step we can take to reduce our dependence on this particularly harmful form of plastic.”

“Our bill would help phase out plastic foam, one of the most pernicious plastics polluting our planet. This single use plastic often contains additional toxic additives and easily breaks down into microplastics—causing macro problems to our environment and health. Unrecyclable and already banned by several states, it’s time for us to enact the Farewell to Foam Act country-wide,” said Senator Blumenthal.

Expanded polystyrene (EPS), known more commonly as plastic foam, is one of the most harmful forms of single-use plastic. These materials, which also often contain other toxic additives such as flame retardants and colorants, are known to have negative impacts on human health, with links to central nervous system damage and increased risk of cancer. Additionally, they are difficult to recycle and prone to break up into tiny pieces – or microplastics – and often wash away into the environment, especially waterways. It is estimated that Americans use at least 5.6 billion pieces of plastic foam products each year.

Nearly a third of Vermont’s trash consists of single-use items, paper, and packaging. Vermont has banned single-use plastics since 2020, one of just eight U.S. states to do so. Since implementation of the law, Vermonters reported using 91% fewer plastic bags on average.

The Farewell to Foam Act aims to build on this progress and reduce plastic foam pollution nationwide by requiring food service providers, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers to transition their stock of EPS products such as food ware, coolers, and loose packing fill to alternative materials by January 1, 2026.

The bill also authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to impose escalating penalties on establishments that violate the EPS prohibition during one calendar year: $250 for the first violation, $500 for the second violation, and $1,000 for the third and subsequent violations. Service providers and retailers with annual revenue less than $1,000,000 and manufacturers and distributors with annual revenue less than $5,000,000 will not be penalized more than once during any seven-day period. The legislation provides exemptions for EPS material used for medical, industrial, or safety purposes.

Bill text is available here.

This legislation has been endorsed by Ocean Conservancy, Alice Ferguson Foundation, Alliance for a Living Ocean, Alliance for the Great Lakes, Bainbridge Beach Naturalists, Bainbridge Island Zero Waste, Beyond Plastics, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, Cape Fear River Watch, Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research, and Education, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Clean Miami Beach, Connecticut River Conservancy, Debris Free Oceans, Environment America, Environment Maryland, Fenceline Watch, Food & Water Watch, Fountain Creek Watershed District, French Broad Riverkeeper, Friends of the Chicago River, Healthy Climate Wisconsin, Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake, Keep Nassau Beautiful, Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, Kent Island Beach Cleanups-KIBCU, Little Falls Watershed Alliance, Love the Sea, Maryland Ornithological Society, Maryland PIRG, Milwaukee Riverkeeper, Moms Clean Air Force, MountainTrue, Natural Resources Defense Council, Nature Forward, The National Aquarium, Oceana, Operation SPLASH, Partners for Clean Streams, Inc., Plastic Pollution Coalition, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Reflo-Sustainable Water Solutions, Rock Creek Conservancy, Rozalia Project for a Clean Ocean, Rutherford Outdoor Coalition, Save The Bay, Save The River® Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper®, Safe Skies Maryland, Save the Sound, Seattle Aquarium, Sierra Club, Society of Conservation Biology North America, Surfrider, Sustainable Bainbridge, Tampa Bay Watch, Inc., The Last Beach Cleanup, The Last Plastic Straw, The Trash Free Maryland Advocacy Coalition, The 5 Gyres Institute, Tropical Audubon Society, Tybee Clean Beach Volunteers, Upstream, U.S. PIRG,, Water Keeper Alliance, World Wildlife Fund, and Zero Waste Washington.