OCEAN CITY — Although only in its infancy, Ocean City officials this week began a discussion about possible banning or at least regulating environmentally harmful Styrofoam in the form of plates, cups and carryout trays.
Several progressive communities across the country are already banning polystyrene in the form of Styrofoam cups, plated and carryout boxes, for example. Closest to home, Montgomery County implemented a phased-in ban on polystyrene products with the county government’s ban going into effect on Jan. 1 and a private sector ban implemented a year later.
Ocean City is considering following suit, although the process would likely be a long one and what the final product on a ban or increased regulation might look like is not entirely clear. Mayor and Acting City Manager Rick Meehan broached the subject this week during a subcommittee report from the Coastal Resources Legislative Committee, or Green Team.
“Not too long ago it was brought to our attention by one of our citizens who usually attends these meetings that we ought to take a look at Styrofoam and its use in Ocean City,” he said. “This is something that a lot of other cities have regulated or banned. I was wondering if the Green Team committee would be a good place to begin this discussion. It’s an environmental issue and maybe it’s something the committee can take a look at and come back with something for the Mayor and Council.”
Councilman Tony DeLuca, the council’s liaison to the Green Team, agreed it was an appropriate time to look at regulating the tons of polystyrene plates, cups and carryout trays generated each summer.
“I think it’s a great idea and I have some experience with this issue,” he said. “I’ll research it and get it before the committee and we’ll get back to you with some kind of recommendation.”
Meehan said an increasingly green Ocean City should perhaps follow the lead of other communities that have banned or regulated Styrofoam, including Montgomery County in Maryland along with Washington, D.C. and progressive cities on the west coast including San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, for example.
“It’s something a lot of other communities have addressed and some of them have phased in the changes to be made,” he said. “In this ever-changing world, we can all take a closer look at our environment and rightly so, and I think it’s something we should take a look at.”
Earlier this year, Montgomery officials passed legislation requiring the county government and its contractors to use only compostable or recyclable “single use disposable food service wares” including plates, bowls and cups effective Jan. 1, 2016. The same requirements will go into effect for the private sector Jan. 1, 2017.
“Many studies have shown that these foam products, especially those used for take-out food, make up a substantial portion of the waste found in our waterways,” said Montgomery County Councilman Hans Riemer when that jurisdiction passed its ban earlier this year. “It never biodegrades, but it breaks apart, making it especially difficult to clean up. Recyclable and compostable alternatives are readily available and competitively priced, so it is time to move on from using foam products.”
At the same time, Montgomery Councilman Marc Elrich said Styrofoam products ultimately make their way into the food chain.
“Once it is broken into smaller pieces, it makes its way into our streams and oceans, where it is ingested by fish, seabirds and other animals, eventually moving up the food chain,” he said. “The EPA says that 100 percent of Americans have styrene, a known carcinogen, in their bodies.”