Polystyrene Ban Passes Senate

OCEAN CITY — While Ocean City’s Green Team and its partners this week were making a push for voluntary reduction of expanded polystyrene products, the state Senate passed legislation to mandate the ban.

Ocean City’s Coastal Resources Legislative Committee, or Green Team, and its partners the Maryland Coastal Bays Program and the Ocean City Surf Club, this week launched an ambitious source-reduction program at the annual Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (HMRA) trade show at the convention center. The source reduction initiative comes on the heels of the highly successful “Strawless Summer” program last year.

The new “Protect our Sand and Sea” campaign aims at voluntary reductions in the use of plastics and expanded polystyrene products including the countless carryout boxes, hot and cold beverage cups, plates, trays, coolers and other products prevalent in the resort’s hospitality industry.

While the Green Team and its partners were pitching the initiative at the HMRA trade show in Ocean City this week, the state Senate passed a bill that would make Maryland the first state in the country to ban expanded polystyrene products most commonly known as Styrofoam. Senate Bill 285 passed the full Senate with a 34-13 vote this week and now moves on to the House. The bill would largely affect food service operations and schools in Maryland and, if approved, would ban polystyrene carryout containers, plates, hot and cold beverage cups, meat and vegetable trays and egg cartons, for example.

It’s important to note although foam carryout trays and beverage cups are often referred to as Styrofoam, the fiscal report on the legislation points out that terminology is incorrect. Styrofoam is a trademark of the Dow Chemical Company and is generally used in industrial settings for building materials and pipe insulation, for example. Styrofoam is not used in the food service industry for plates, trays, cups, coolers or packaging materials.

The bill would have an effective date of Jan. 1, 2020 in order to allow food service businesses and schools to use up the polystyrene products they have already purchased and to allow them to begin to explore recyclable alternatives. The legislation calls for the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to conduct outreach and education programs to bring the public up to speed on the regulations promulgated by the legislation.

There are some notable exclusions in the legislation, however. For example, the law would not apply to pre-packaged foods such as soup, for example, that have been filled and sealed prior to the passage of the legislation. In addition, food service businesses and schools in Maryland would be allowed to purchase and distribute products packaged in polystyrene out of state and distributed in Maryland. Also, the bill does not address products such as appliances or computers, for example, that are packaged in Maryland and secured with expanded polystyrene.

At least three counties in Maryland including Montgomery, Prince George’s and Anne Arundel, along with Baltimore City and Washington, D.C., have already passed local legislation banning expanded polystyrene products. The bill approved by the state Senate this week would allow local jurisdictions to continue to pass their own bans as long as they are at least as onerous as the state law.

While the MDE would handle public outreach and education, enforcement would fall on the county health departments including potential fines. However, penalties and fines could not be meted out without written warnings and other preventative measures first.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.