Polystyrene Bylaw

Polystyrene Bylaw Documents:


For general questions, contact the Climate Advisory Committee at readingclimatecommittee@gmail.com

For questions regarding compliance with this bylaw, please contact the Town of Reading Public Health Director, Adetokunbo Solarin MPH; 781-942-6643. 

More Information:

In November 2022, Reading Town Meeting passed a new bylaw 8.14 that prohibits the use or distribution of disposable polystyrene food service items or containers.  Enforcement of the bylaw starts February 22, 2024.

What is Polystyrene? 

Polystyrene is a particular type of plastic.  It may be labeled with the recycling number “6” or “PS 6.”  

Polystyrene is based on styrene, a neurotoxin and probable carcinogen. Polystyrene is the only plastic used in food packaging that is based on a carcinogen. Polystyrene resin usually contains a small percentage of residual styrene. Styrene leaching increases with temperature and with certain foods (alcohol, oils or fat).

Polystyrene comes in two forms: 

The rigid form is used for clear food containers, plates, bowls, beverage cups/lids, utensils and straws.

The foam form (sometimes called Styrofoam) is used for plates, insulated cups/bowls, food containers and trays.Sustainability Bylaw- Plastic (1)

What does the bylaw do and why? 

In addition to being a probable carcinogen:

Polystyrene items are almost never recycled due to their low value. The bulky foam form is not accepted in curbside recycling programs and the rigid form is not recycled even when collected curbside.

Polystyrene items harm wildlife and are not biodegradable. It fragments through mechanical action and degrades in the presence of light; a process that takes approximately 200 years to complete. The foam form, in particular, is often mistaken as food by both domestic and wild animals. 

Bylaw Section 8.14 “Regulation of Polystyrene and Disposable Food Service Containers” prohibits food establishments from using or distributing disposable food service containers, cutlery or other single-use disposable products made from rigid or foam polystyrene. 

This bylaw applies to food establishments which includes restaurants, mobile food vendors, caterers, public and private schools, farmers markets, civic or religious centers or facilities, any building owned by the Town of Reading, and any establishment requiring a permit to operate in accordance with the State Food Code.


The Public Health Director, or their designee, administers and enforces this bylaw. 

In the event of a noticed violation, the following would be enforced: First Offense = written warning, second offense = $50 penalty, third offense = $200 penalty.

Food establishments have 15 calendar days after the date that a notice of a violation is issued to pay the penalty or request a hearing with the Director. No more than 1 penalty shall be imposed on an establishment within a 15calendar-day period. 

In the event that compliance is not feasible for an establishment because of unavailability of alternatives or economic hardship the Director may grant a waiver of not more than 6 months upon application by the establishment. The Director may grant an additional 6 month waiver upon showing of continued infeasibility or hardship. 

The following are exempt and not subject to the provisions of this bylaw:

Pre-packaged meat and produce trays, egg cartons and other food/beverage products bought from or packaged by a supplier other than the local establishment are exempt from this bylaw.  Establishments that have or purchase products pre-packaged in polystyrene can continue to resell them that way.

Polystyrene food service items sold to individuals for private use are exempt.

Items unrelated to food service like foam packaging peanuts or freezer chests are exempt.

What are the alternatives to Polystyrene containers? 

Plastics #1 and #5, paper products, and foil products are common alternatives to polystyrene. Appropriate alternative products are readily available from vendors and are already in common use. Similar products are available in several other materials all of which are more eco-friendly and safer than polystyrene including alternative plastics that are recyclable. Indeed, the alternatives are more common in Reading than polystyrene is.