Outreach, Education On Styrofoam Planned In OC

OCEAN CITY — While an outright ban on potentially harmful Styrofoam in the form of plates, cups and carry-out trays in Ocean City appears to be getting little traction, the resort’s Coastal Resources Legislative Committee continues to explore a subtler approach.

Late last year, a private citizen urged the Mayor and Council to look into a ban on polystyrene in the resort in the form of Styrofoam cups, plates and carry-out boxes, for example. As a result, the Mayor and Council put the issue on the Coastal Resources Legislative Committee’s plate, so to speak, and the so-called “Green Team” began researching a potential ban.

After consulting with the Public Works Department, the Green Team learned Styrofoam is currently not creating any major issues for the solid waste division and exploring an outright ban was getting little traction at this time. Undaunted, the Coastal Resources Legislative Committee has not given up on exploring a possible educational and outreach component, including urging business owners to voluntary reduce or eliminate altogether the use of Styrofoam.

At last week’s meeting, Councilman and Green Team liaison Tony DeLuca said while there does not appear to be the will to legislatively ban Styrofoam in the resort at this point, there could be a potential educational component to achieve the desired result.

“We didn’t get the feeling it was going to be a legislative issue,” he said. “I’m thinking it’s more of an outreach issue at this point with a volunteer component. Maybe we can work with the Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association and the Chamber to get their members to voluntarily look into eliminating it.”

Several progressive communities across the country are already banning polystyrene in the form of Styrofoam cups, plates and carry-out boxes, for example. Closest to home, Montgomery County has implemented a phased-in prohibition with the county government’s ban already in effect and a private sector ban implemented next year.

There are already numerous alternatives to polystyrene containers, plates and cup on the market, but they are generally more expensive than their Styrofoam counterparts. Many businesses in the resort are already using the alternative products and the Green Team hopes with a little education and outreach, more will voluntarily follow suit. Maryland Coastal Bays Program representative Sandi Smith said the Surfrider Foundation was behind the push for a Styrofoam ban in California and she reached out to a member there to pick her brain on the issue.

“She said the alternatives are not that much more expensive,” she said. “Maybe we can work on getting grants to offset the costs of switching over for businesses.”

While switching entirely away from Styrofoam may be cost prohibitive for some smaller businesses, Smith suggested there could be an opportunity for a co-op of some sort.

“Basically, everybody has said it’s not a legislative issue here at this point,” she said. “Maybe we can get some cost estimates and work with Sysco or other companies to get a big group rate for our local businesses. I’ll keep working on it.”

Committee member Wyatt Harrison said it would be different if there weren’t already affordable alternatives to Styrofoam available.

“The alternative product is already there,” he said. “That’s a huge hurdle we don’t have to cross with this.”

Harrison said it would likely come down to a simple business decision for many businesses, but getting even some of the massive amount of Styrofoam used in the resort out of the equation was worth a continued outreach effort.

“We need to look at the cost comparison,” he said. “To me, it is pointless to take a paper-based product and put it in a plastic bag. If restaurants were able to offer incentives to do it, people will respond.”