The River Forest Village Board voted to prohibit food establishments in the village from selling or distributing disposable food service containers composed of polystyrene foam.

With Trustees Lisa Gillis, Ken Johnson and Bob O’Connell not in attendance, the ordinance approving the ban was adopted by a 4-0 vote at Monday’s Village Board meeting.

The new restriction will have staggered effective dates. The prohibition on polystyrene, commonly known by the brand name Styrofoam, will take effect Jan. 1, 2024. Smaller restaurants with an annual gross income of under $500,000 must comply with the ban by Jan. 1, 2025. The ordinance also mandates the village to perform education and outreach efforts regarding the prohibition during the first four months of 2024 with no citations to be issued during that time.

Violations of any provision of the Food and Food Establishment code is subject of fines up to $500. 

“The village’s ultimate goal is compliance and the intent is to provide warnings and education to those that are violating the new rules,” said village Administrator Matt Walsh.

In response to a question from Trustee Katie Brennan, Seth Jansen, management analyst, explained that the ban covers drinkware in addition to food ware.

Jansen also explained that the ban will not affect retail stores selling products in polystyrene as long as the product came from the manufacturer that way. Also exempted are not-for-profit organizations; any federal, state or local governmental agency that provides food to economically disadvantaged individuals at no or nominal cost; and supplies and services provided in response to a public health or other emergency that is declared by a governmental agency with jurisdiction in River Forest.   

Sustainability Commission members were tasked with considering the ban in May, subsequently drafting an ordinance that was modeled after one adopted by the Oak Park Village Board earlier that month. The board accepted their recommendations.

In a memo to officials, Jansen explained that commission members sought input from businesses affected by the proposed ordinance by mailing letters to businesses at their respective mailing addresses and sending multiple email messages.  He said the feedback was limited, but only one responding business representative indicating his firm uses polystyrene foam food ware.

Officials took a similar step in June when they approved a resolution in support of Senate Bill 58, which required state agencies and public universities to significantly reduce their purchase of single-use plastics, including materials made out of polystyrene. 

In 2018, the World Health Organization classified styrene, a building block of polystyrene, as a “possible carcinogen.” It’s also harmful for workers in factories that produce it, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration.

According to the Restaurant Store, a foodservice industry supplier, the environmental repercussions of Styrofoam containers have led to bans similar to those in Oak Park and River Forest in cities and states across the United States. Nine states have laws limiting or banning polystyrene products, according to the advocacy group Environment Illinois.

Although Styrofoam products are marked as recyclable, many recycling centers across the United States do not accept and recycle foam products, which means that the majority of used Styrofoam products are placed in landfills, unable to be broken down over time. 

Join the discussion on social media!