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Maryland May Become First U.S. State to Ban Polystyrene Food Containers

Maryland is poised to become the first U.S. state to ban expanded polystyrene foam food containers. A bill recently passed the Democratic-majority Maryland House of Delegates and the Maryland State Senate to prohibit selling or providing polystyrene food service products, as well as food or beverages served in such products. The bill would exempt raw meat, poultry and seafood packaged in polystyrene, products already packaged outside of Maryland, as well as many other disposable products. Beginning on 1 July 2020, it would establish penalties of up to US$250 for violations found three months after written notice is provided.

The legislation could still be vetoed by Republican Governor Larry Hogan, which would delay its implementation substantially because both houses of the Maryland General Assembly will be out of session from 8 April 2019 until after 1 January 2020. Hogan was re-elected as governor in November 2018 by emphasising his willingness to work in a non-partisan manner in this heavily Democratic state.

Although there are no state-wide bans on expanded polystyrene foam in the United States, several large jurisdictions have prohibited or limited the use of this product, including two large counties within Maryland and the adjoining jurisdiction of Washington, D.C. Other cities that have instituted bans include New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco. In most cases, providers have switched to other disposable products, including compostable paper products. Many of these products are not actually composted when taken to offices or homes for consumption rather than eaten in restaurants, however. Maryland public school systems currently using foam trays have indicated that a change to other trays will increase their costs, although analysis at the Maryland General Assembly indicates that it would be a very small percentage of total school breakfast and lunch expenditures.

Expectedly, the American Chemistry Council has called on Governor Hogan to exercise his veto power. This association claims that polystyrene foam packaging and containers provide business owners and consumers with a “cost-effective and environmentally preferable choice that is ideal for protecting food and preventing food waste, particularly when used for foodservice.” According to the ACC, shipping heavier packaging materials “could lead to increased solid waste, energy use, water use, and greenhouse gas emissions.”

A student-led group in Maryland’s largest city called “Baltimore Beyond Plastic” celebrated when the Baltimore City Council voted in January 2018 to phase out foam trays and begin using compostable trays in their school cafeterias. In a city and state that surround the Chesapeake Bay, the students claimed that polystyrene foam “can litter waterways for generations” and “has the ability to absorb other harmful chemicals, which hurts Bay life like fish and crabs.” The students said that their ultimate goal was for Baltimore City to phase out the use of foam food containers citywide; in fact, this may now occur throughout the state of Maryland.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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