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Maryland eyes first statewide EPS food service ban

Maryland could be the first state to ban expanded polystyrene food service packaging, with the lower chamber of the state's Legislature adopting the restrictions by a wide measure March 12.

The 97-38 vote in the House of Delegates follows a March 5 vote, by a 34-13 margin, in Maryland's Senate to adopt a similar measure. The measure now shifts from the Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

Plastics industry groups are calling on him to veto it.

"We strongly oppose this legislation and urge Gov. Hogan to protect the interests of Maryland businesses and residents by vetoing it and pursuing policies that will have real, positive impacts on recycling and sustainability across the state," Omar Terrie, director of the Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group in the American Chemistry Council, said in a March 13 statement.

PFPG said a ban could lead to more solid waste, energy use, water use and greenhouse gases emissions from alternative products, and claimed it would raise costs for Maryland restaurants.

"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," Terrie said. "Foam packaging is generally more than 90 percent air and has a lighter environmental impact than alternatives."

But the legislation's supporters said it's a step toward cleaning up pollution from single-use plastics. And they defended a focus on EPS by pointing to new data showing that the trash wheels pulling garbage from Baltimore's touristy Inner Harbor have collected more PS packaging than plastic bottles or bags.

"One of the problems that we are facing and that we're set to solve is the problem of plastics, and the problem of plastics that are ubiquitous in our world and in our state," said Del. Brooke Lierman, D-Baltimore, and the bill's sponsor in the House of Delegates.

Del. Brooke Lierman's office Maryland state Delegate Brooke Lierman, D-Baltimore.

Since they started operating in 2014, more than 1 million PS packaging containers have been collected by the trash wheels, compared with more than 850,000 plastic bottles and 626,000 plastic bags, according to the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, which operates the wheels.

State Sen. Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery, who pointed to the trash wheel figures during a floor debate, said the foam ban was needed to both clean up litter and to keep PS and toxins the out of food chains.

"This kind of expanded polystyrene foam absorbs toxic chemicals, that's what the problem is," she said. "It ends up in our roadways, it ends up in our waterways. Mammals eat it, fish eat it and then we eat the fish."

During the March 5 floor debate in the state Senate, several amendments that would have created exemptions in the bill were defeated. One would have exempted cities and counties if they set up EPS recycling programs, and others would have called for more public education campaigns around PS foam, boosted foam recycling programs and exempted religious groups and charities from the ban.

Opponents pointed to rising costs — Meals on Wheels was against the legislation because it would add 9 cents to the cost of every meal it prepares, said Sen. Stephen Hershey, R-Kent.

He also argued that paper packaging may not work as well as EPS in some instances, and said paper packaging can use "highly toxic" PFOS fluorinated compounds as coatings that remain in the environment for a long time.

Others said the state should focus more on recycling.

"I think we're a little hypocritical if we ban it but don't provide any provision for recycling," said Sen. Adelaide C. Eckardt, R-Caroline. "We may ban this, but we are still going to have polystyrene around. Many of our small rural counties are going to find this pretty burdensome."

Hershey, an opponent of the legislation, noted it would not ban PS foam packaging for televisions or other non-food service applications, and he too questioned why the legislation should not include more provisions for recycling.

"Have you bought a TV lately and seen the amount of Styrofoam?" he said. "You're still going to have this stuff coming in in floods."

But Kagan, the sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said recycling of EPS food containers is very difficult economically for local governments. She said more than half of the state's residents already live in places with local EPS foam bans, including Montgomery and Prince George's counties and the city of Baltimore.

She said Anne Arundel county, which includes the state capitol of Annapolis, adopted its own EPS restrictions in February.

"There's not a market for expanded polystyrene foam [recycling]," she said, and noted one EPS recycling drop-off site in Maryland does not take EPS contaminated with food.

Kagan argued that none of the amendments would have done anything substantial on recycling, and said local governments remain free to set up their own recycling operations regardless of the bill.

The legislation would take effect July 1, 2020 and set fines of up to $250 for violations.

It would not ban EPS packaging used in food that is packed and then shipped to the final point of sale, like EPS egg cartons delivered to a grocery store. The state Senate held a lengthy debate over the egg carton provision and its impact on Maryland farmers who produce and package eggs, in a Feb. 28 floor debate.

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» Publication Date: 14/03/2019

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research, technological development and demonstration (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° [606572].

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