Maryland Poised to Be First State to Ban Foam Food Containers

Photo | Submitted A bill making its way through the Maryland General Assembly could make Maryland the first state to ban polystyrene foam food service products.

Photo | Submitted
A bill making its way through the Maryland General Assembly could make Maryland the first state to ban polystyrene food service products.

A bill that would ban the use of expanded polystyrene foam (“Styrofoam”) food service products and their retail sale passed the Maryland State Senate on March 5 with a 34 to 13 vote. The bill is sponsored by Montgomery County state Senator Cheryl Kagan (D-District 17) and Delegate Brooke Lierman (D-District 46). Kagan and Lierman have worked for three years to move this bill forward.

The bill should be scheduled for a vote in the House soon. Republican Governor Larry Hogan is expected to sign the bill, should it pass.

Montgomery, Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties, and the cities of Gaithersburg, Rockville, Annapolis and Baltimore have already enacted foam food container bans. Currently, more than 52 percent of Maryland residents reside in areas covered by a ban.

Gaithersburg passed legislation banning polystyrene disposable food service products in 2016. Neil Harris, City of Gaithersburg councilmember, said, “Environmentally, Styrofoam containers are a bit of a nightmare, since they do not degrade well in landfills. Also, there are inexpensive and viable substitutes. So there is no good reason to use them, given what we know now.”

Enforcement of the city’s ban began on Jan. 1, 2017. “We have not received any negative feedback,” Harris noted. City of Gaithersburg Councilmember Ryan Spiegel said, “We also have no indication of any significant additional cost burden on our food service industry as a result of the ban.”

Of the potential statewide ban, Spiegel said, “A statewide ban would have an even more significant effect on the market for these products. I think it would be a great step for environmental and public health impacts.”

The nonprofit Trash Free Maryland has worked with Sen. Kagan and Del. Lierman in support of the legislation. According to the non-profit’s website, “This year we are asking the General Assembly once more to tackle expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam food containers. In its manufacture and use, it exposes people to increased cancer risk. In the water, it absorbs more chemicals from the water than any other plastic, and exposes fish to unsafe levels of pesticides and fertilizers. It can carry invasive species, and we’re beginning to learn all the places microplastics are ending up: in our tap and bottled water, table salt, beer, and human stools. It’s also a bigger litter problem than other items; it’s only 1% of the waste stream but in a stream cleanup it’s anywhere from 10 to even 40% of the litter collected.”

When asked about his views on the bill, Frederick County state Delegate Ken Kerr (D-District 3-B) said, “It’s time to ban single-use Styrofoam containers in Maryland. There are same-cost alternatives that do not have the same environmentally devastating effects. This ban applies only to these foam plates, cups, bowls and to-go containers. It does not prohibit the packing peanuts in your eBay shipment or the packaging on your new TV or coffee maker. Additionally, it does not ban the manufacture, so those companies in Maryland may continue to produce these products. However, most forward-thinking food container companies have seen this coming and have already started making the switch to paper and plant-based alternatives.”