ANNAPOLIS, MD.—Maryland is on the brink of becoming the first state to ban expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam food containers, as the State House passed a bill that would ban restaurants, grocery stores, and other food providers from using foam food containers because of their harmful impact on the environment. The bill also bans the retail sale of these products. The bill passed 97-38, with bi-partisan support. Following a pro-forma vote from one chamber on the other chamber’s bill, the legislation only needs Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature to become law.
Often referred to as Styrofoam, lightweight littered EPS foam food containers are carried by wind and runoff into waterways, where they break into small beads and absorb toxins as they are carried into the Chesapeake Bay and ultimately the oceans. These toxic microplastics, which are impossible to clean up, are mistaken for food by fish and marine mammals, with fatal results.
EPS foam food containers that are not littered enter the waste stream and are not compostable or recyclable in an economically sustainable way, adding to materials that cannot be diverted from the State’s landfills and incinerators. This legislation will help Maryland reach its goal of diverting 85 percent of waste by reduction, reuse, and recycling by 2040.
Alternatives Widely Available
Fortunately, there are many widely available and affordable alternatives to foam food containers, many of them manufactured in Maryland. The State’s two largest counties—Montgomery and Prince George’s—have already made the transition with no disruption and high compliance rates. Similar local bans in Anne Arundel County, the City of Annapolis and the City of Baltimore are set to go into effect in the next year. The Senate bill (SB285), sponsored by Sen. Cheryl Kagan, and its sister bill in the House of Delegates (HB109), sponsored by Del. Brooke Lierman, would extend the ban statewide in mid-2020.
In response, Sierra Club Maryland Chapter Director Josh Tulkin released the following statement: “Maryland’s rivers, waterways, beaches, and the Chesapeake Bay are vital to our state’s economy and identity and deserve protection from the harmful effects of foam and microplastics. We are thankful to the Maryland House for putting us on the verge of protecting our economy and water by banning foam food containers. Three Maryland counties and the City of Baltimore have passed similar legislation, and now Governor Hogan can extend those commonsense protections across all of Maryland.”
Ashley Van Stone, Executive Director of Trash Free Maryland, said: “We are grateful for the dedication of the bill’s sponsors over the past three years, and for the House recognizing the importance of this legislation. Protecting our environment requires an array of tactics, and it’s remarkable to see Maryland demonstrate such leadership to address our mounting pollution challenges that significantly impact our ecosystems, economy and environment.”
Added Karla Raettig, Executive Director of Maryland League of Conservation Voters: “We are so proud of the leadership that the Maryland General Assembly has shown in passing this important bill, putting our state at the forefront of the nation’s effort to address plastic pollution in our waste stream and waterways.”