By Susan Olsen
Environmentalists are hopeful that the state-wide ban on Styrofoam food containers in Maryland might make it through this legislative session in Annapolis. SB285 and HB109 have multiple purposes: to support food waste composting and zero waste goals; to protect public health and Maryland waterways; and to drive innovation in materials and products. The legislation also complies with Governor Hogan’s Waste Reduction and Resource Recovery Executive Order 01.01.2017.13.
The proposed law would prohibit food service businesses and institutions from serving food in EPS foam packaging (cups, plates, clamshells) and prohibit the retail sale of these products in Maryland.
How are businesses going to cope? Well, they should be just fine. This is a business-friendly bill. There is a grace period for businesses to use up the Styrofoam products they have in stock as well as a one-year grace period if alternatives are not immediately available. (They are.)
Both Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties are already Styrofoam-free and have not reported any problems or used the waiver accommodating them. The cities of Gaithersburg, Rockville, Takoma Park, Baltimore, and Annapolis have already joined the two counties in voting to make their cities foam-free.
Unfortunately, lobbyists for the Dart Container Company, which makes Styrofoam in other states (Maryland locations produce alternative products), have been lobbying hard against the bill, telling legislators that they recycle Styrofoam. The Dart Company website even states:
Foam foodservice products can be recycled as part of an integrated waste management strategy. Dart encourages the recycling of foam cups and foam foodservice products by offering three options: The CARE Program for large operators; Recycla-Pak, a mail-back recycling program for small operators; and drop-off locations for the general public recycling program for small operators; and drop-off locations for the general public.
There is a problem with this statement, however. This legislation concerns itself only with food containers. Once the containers have been used for serving food, they are no longer recyclable. One PWC manager stated that when a careless person throws a cardboard pizza box into the cardboard recycling bin with a little bit of leftover pizza, it contaminates the whole load. That whole bin of recycled cardboard must be thrown in the landfill. The same goes for any other recyclable item.
Health concerns are a primary reason for banning Styrofoam. The chief chemical component is Styrene, a known carcinogen which leaches into any food being heated in the foam containers. Other elements of the foam are fossil fuels and synthetic chemicals. In addition, the substance absorbs ten times more pesticides, fertilizers, and chemicals than other types of plastic. When discarded in our waterways, Styrofoam breaks up into microplastic size; fish and other wildlife confuse it with food. When humans eat the fish, they absorb the toxins.
This substance creates a massive litter problem in Maryland. Styrofoam represents 10% to 40% of the litter collected during stream clean-ups and is a major component of litter in Maryland’s waterways.
The bills to ban Styrofoam in Maryland represent a win/win situation all around. Litter will decrease and, although we cannot effectively measure them, our health outcomes will improve. Companies will thrive. When we take care of the environment, the environment takes care of us.
Many thanks to the 2019 Maryland Environmental Legislative Summit which provided much of this information.
For more information, the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club has information on all the environmental bills being voted on this session. Go to www.sierraclub.org/maryland and type “legislation” in the search bar.
For information about when hearings are taking place on all bills and which delegates and senators are on the committees, access the Maryland Legislative Coalition at www.mdlegislative.org.
Susan Olsen is a member of the Talbot County Democratic Forum. She writes from Cambridge.