Sample Policies to Prevent Plastic Pollution

Stopping marine debris at the source

According to the Ocean Conservancy, 8 of the top 10 contributors to aquatic trash are single-use plastics like bags, bottles, cups and lids, straws, and plates. When businesses decrease the number of disposables they give to customers, they can help reduce waste, beautify local beaches, and protect the wildlife that support tourism – all while saving money and helping their businesses thrive.

Effective policies broaden these opportunities for the entire community to reap the benefits of source reduction. Developing a written policy within your organization or enacting legislation in your community are effective approaches because everyone must participate. Legislation also levels the playing field – so responsible businesses are never at a disadvantage to their competitors.


This section provides legislative options for you to consider. PSI found the laws below to be strong examples of what state and local governments around the country are enacting to reduce packaging waste, particularly plastics. PSI developed these potential samples based on actual legislation (noted in each case). The specific language used may not necessarily reflect the views of PSI, and no official endorsement should be inferred. Over time, best practices will emerge, and PSI will monitor and promote them.


Get in touch with your local Chamber of Commerce, business groups, or environmental organizations to discuss the potential for introducing and supporting legislation that will best meet your goals. Encourage municipal, county, and state-level policymakers to consider these strategies. You may replicate and adapt the sample language for your jurisdiction’s unique needs.


Require Foodware to be Recyclable or Compostable

Sample policy: (Word) (PDF)

Several cities have begun requiring all foodservice ware to be recyclable or compostable. In effect, this bans conventional plastic straws and utensils because they are neither.

Berkeley, California: Single Use Disposable Foodware and Litter Reduction

Often cited as a model for the country after it passed in 2019. This was made possible by a broad coalition of support built over ten years and informed by extensive data collected by the Rethink Disposable program’s about how much money and waste was saved by its participating restaurants.


Carryout Bags

Laws to eliminate or reduce plastic bags are on the rise. At the time this toolkit was published, plastic bags were already banned in two states and hundreds of towns and cities.


Ban single-use plastic and place 10 cent fee on other bags

Sample policy: (Word) (PDF)

The ban ensures that conventional plastic is never used, while the 10 cent point-of-sale fee causes consumers to bring reusable bags. In this sample, retailers keep the fee.

Fee on all carryout bags

Sample policy (5 cent fee): (Word) (PDF)

Sample policy (10 cent fee): (Word) (PDF)

In some communities, where a ban is not politically feasible, even a small fee will make people think twice. In the 5-cent sample, retailers keep the fee. In the 10-cent sample, the money is split between retailers and the government, which may use the funds for environmental programs.


Polystyrene (including “styrofoam”)

Sample policy: (Word) (PDF)

Banning polystyrene foodware is becoming widespread. More than 100 local governments across the U.S. already restrict it.


Straws, Stirrers, and Utensils

Sample policy: (Word) (PDF)

Communities in California, Florida, Washington, and New Jersey are implementing bans on plastic straws, stirrers, and cutlery. Non-plastic alternatives may be provided only upon request.

Update: To provide accessibility options for individuals who need to use a plastic straw for medical reasons, any business that provides non-plastic straws must make plastic straws available by request, no proof of disability required.


“The simple straw seems to be a pathway to enlightenment regarding waste prevention. When a person, business, or government goes through the steps of eliminating the wasteful distribution of plastic straws and utensils that are unwanted and unneeded, it opens a new awareness of how irresponsible we have been. It opens the door to “what’s next, what else can we do?” -- Sego Jackson, Seattle Public Utilities, WA


Bottled Water

Prohibit the purchase of packaged water with public funds

Sample policy: (Word) (PDF)

Such policies are in place in dozens of cities and states/provinces in the U.S. and Canada. This type of ban saves taxpayers money and frees funds for greater public benefit.


Ban water in single-serve containers 1 liter or less

Sample policy: (Word) (PDF)

This type of policy is newly emerging among towns in Massachusetts. After a ban, create a “tap map” online and display it in public areas to show people where they can refill their own bottles.



When released or lost, balloons harm wildlife just like bags and other plastic pollution. These policies are emerging in coastal states like Florida and Rhode Island.


Prohibit outdoor balloon releases

Sample policy: (Word) (PDF)

Ban the sale and use of all balloons

Sample policy: (Word) (PDF)


Polystyrene, PVC, and PETE

Sample policy: (Word) (PDF)

Bans three toxic food packaging plastics in one ordinance. This model was drafted by the Massachusetts Chapter of the Sierra Club for Brookline, MA. The ordinance passed in May 2018.


Require Reusable Foodware for Onsite Dining

Sample policy: (Word) (PDF)

This ordinance requires eateries with dishwashing capacity to provide reusable foodware for dine-in customers.



At the time this toolkit was published, the City Council of Berkeley, CA was considering the draft Disposable Foodware and Litter Reduction Ordinance, the most ambitious and comprehensive piece of municipal legislation in the U.S. aimed at reducing single-use disposable foodware. The ordinance stipulates that:

1) Only reusable foodware may be used for dine-in service,

2) All takeout foodware must be approved as recyclable or compostable in the City’s collection programs,

3) Food vendors must charge customers $0.25 for every disposable beverage cup and $0.25 for every disposable food container provided, and

4) Disposable compostable straws, stirrers, cup spill plugs, napkins, and utensils for take-out may be provided only upon request by the customer or at a self-serve station.

5) The City will no longer grant licenses to businesses without dishwashing capacity.


For more information, please contact PSI's Sydney Harris.


This project is funded by an agreement (I96275701) awarded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC).

Although the information in this document has been funded wholly or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency under agreement I96275701 to NEIWPCC, it has not undergone the Agency’s publications review process and therefore, may not necessarily reflect the views of the Agency and no official endorsement should be inferred. The viewpoints expressed here do not necessarily represent those of NEIWPCC or U.S. EPA nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or causes constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.