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Maryland Could Become First State to Ban Foam Food Containers

Baltimore Waterfront Partnership's Healthy Harbor Initiative has collected more than 1 million Styrofoam containers since its first "trash wheel" launched in 2014. (Matthew Bellemare/Creative Commons)
Baltimore Waterfront Partnership's Healthy Harbor Initiative has collected more than 1 million Styrofoam containers since its first "trash wheel" launched in 2014. (Matthew Bellemare/Creative Commons)
March 15, 2019

BALTIMORE - Maryland soon could become the first state to ban Styrofoam food containers and cups.

A bill passed this week by the House of Delegates prohibits restaurants, supermarkets, vending trucks, movie theaters and schools from providing polystyrene food containers. Even egg cartons would have to be made of alternative materials. The Senate approved its version of the ban a week ago, and violators who insist on using foam plates and trays would face a $250 fine.

Cities such as Baltimore already have banned them, but Adam Lindquist, director of the Baltimore Waterfront Partnership's Healthy Harbor Initiative, said it still wasn't enough.

"We know the Styrofoam containers that end up in the Baltimore Harbor, they just don't come from the city," he said. "Our streams flow across political boundaries - and so, foam can come from all over the place. So really, a statewide ban will have a much bigger impact."

Opponents, such as the Maryland Retailers Association, have claimed that the cost of using alternative packaging is too great, adding that consumers would spend almost $35 million more each year to replace the banned products.

House and Senate negotiators are expected to hammer out differences in the bills before final approval.

The Healthy Harbor Initiative is known for its famous "Trash Wheel family" - Mr. Trash Wheel, Professor Trash Wheel and Capt. Trash Wheel. They use sustainable energy to churn around the harbor and collect floating trash. Lindquist said they'd prefer to put the Trash Wheel family on a diet.

"Since we started this project in 2014, over 1 million foam containers," he said. "It is by far one of the biggest pollutants that we see coming down our waterways, and it's really hard to capture, because it keeps breaking up into smaller and smaller pieces."

According to the group Trash Free Maryland, polystyrene, also known as Styrofoam, is a major pollution risk for marine life as well as people. Lindquist said the goal is not just to collect trash, but to inspire people to make change - including legislative change to help reduce consumer waste.

The text of House Bill 109 is online here, and the text of Senate Bill 285 is here.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - MD