Let’s Ban Styrofoam in Maryland this year!
By: Susan Olsen, Our Maryland Mike Pretl Fellow
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 law would:
• Prohibit food service businesses and institutions from serving food in EPS foam packaging (cups, plates, clamshells).
• 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.
Health concerns are a primary reason for banning Styrofoam. The substance is made of fossil fuels and synthetic chemicals. The chief chemical component is Styrene, a known carcinogen which leaches into any food being heated in the foam containers. 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. The toxins are then transferred to humans when seafood is eaten.
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.
According to some members of the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club, lobbyists for a Styrofoam manufacturing company have been attempting to convince lawmakers that we do not need a ban on Styrofoam because their company recycles it. It is important to remember that the law would only ban Styrofoam food containers. According to the “Home for Foam” website: https://www.homeforfoam.com/foam-101/foam-recycling-centers, there are only two drop-off locations in Maryland; one is in Belcamp and the other is in Hunt Valley. Both state that they only take “clean food packaging.”
Environmentalists have been clearly stating that Styrofoam cannot be recycled. The Maryland Sierra Club website states that Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam is not conventionally recyclable because it is very difficult to clean and can contaminate other recyclable items when put into single-stream collection bins. Furthermore, like other plastics, no markets exist for recycled food-service foam. If we do not ban foam, companies are going to continue to manufacture it. Even if we manage to recycle a little bit of it, it will not help significantly. It is clearly too little too late.
The bills to ban Styrofoam in Maryland represent a win/win situation all around. Litter will decrease. By preventing a known carcinogen from being ingested, our health outcomes will improve. Because alternatives to Styrofoam are readily available, businesses should be none the worse when the state-wide ban is instituted.
For more information, the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club has information on environmental bills being voted on this session. Go to www.sierraclub.org/maryland/legislation
Under “2019 Legislative Priorities,” the fifth bullet reads “Ban Single-Use Foam Food Containers Statewide.” There is a fact-sheet and a webinar there. The Maryland League of Conservation Voters also has good information at http://www.mdlcv.org/2019-foam-ban
Many thanks to the 2019 Maryland Environmental Legislative Summit which provided much of this information.
The views expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of Our Maryland or Our Maryland Education Fund