Public Outreach Planned For Foam Ban

OCEAN CITY – A resort restaurant owner is looking to host educational meetings with local businesses as Maryland moves closer to becoming the first state to ban polystyrene products.

Last week, Mother’s Cantina owner Ryan James presented the town’s Coastal Resources Legislative Committee, or Green Team, with a plan to help resort restaurants transition away from polystyrene products.

This month, both the state Senate and House of Delegates passed a bill to ban expanded polystyrene products. The legislation would largely affect the food service industry and schools in Maryland, as it would ban polystyrene carryout containers, plates, hot and cold beverage cups, meat and vegetable trays and egg cartons, to name a few examples.

James told the committee last week informational meetings on alternative products and the various price points would benefit resort establishments should Gov. Larry Hogan sign the bill into law.

“I feel that we’re going to need to help the restaurants in town make the transition,” he said. “I would like to offer my services, and my restaurant and my venue, to help anybody.”

If signed by the governor, James noted the ban would go into effect on July 1, 2020, giving local businesses time to explore alternatives. Using his restaurant – which has been foam free for roughly two years – as an example, he said owners, managers and buyers can get a better understanding of their options.

“We could have distributors and suppliers bring in their wares and have restaurant owners come in and look at the different products and see what they can switch to,” he said. “They are going to be upset by this bill, but if we help them understand why it’s important and how to do it without impacting their business economically, they are going to be much more amicable about switching over and less resistant.”

Liz Walk of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association (HMRA) offered her assistance.

“We do restaurant round tables at HMRA and what we can always do is set it up like an actual expo setting, where we bring in Sysco, H&M Wagner, anyone who provides products, and can make a setting or display that is only foam-free,” she said. “I think we could put it out to all of our members and non-member restaurants, to provide that information.”

James said he would have a better timeline for hosting the sessions once, or if, Hogan “puts pen to paper.” But Councilman Tony DeLuca, who chairs the committee, encouraged him to host the meetings regardless, as they complimented a voluntary source-reduction program recently launched by the Green Team, Surfrider Foundation Ocean City, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program and the Ocean City Surf Club.

“Signing this as a ban doesn’t really affect this program at all,” he said.
Sandi Smith of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program agreed.

“With this legislation, it could potentially encourage more people to make pledges,” she said.

DeLuca added that informational sessions would address concerns.

“It’s a big deal,” he said. “It could put small businesses out of business.”

James, however, was somewhat reluctant to agree.

“If your margin is 5 cents on a to-go container, and your business hangs on that, then I think you’ve got other problems than your to-go container,” he said. “I think people might blame a 5-cent-more to-go container on the failing of their business. But if your chicken sandwich is better than Chick-fil-A’s, people are going to pay 5 cents more for it.”
James said the idea of the informational sessions is to reach out to those concerned business owners.

“The people that come to you with the Chicken Little, sky-is-falling mentality and think they are going to go out of business, those are the people we need to target and help them understand there are ways around this,” he said.

James told the committee he would return for the May meeting with an update on his progress.

“Thank you very much for stepping up,” DeLuca said.

It’s important to note although foam carryout trays and beverage cups are often referred to as Styrofoam, the fiscal report on the approved state 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.

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 Geor-ge’s and Anne Arundel, along with Baltimore City and Washington, D.C., have already passed local legislation banning expanded polystyrene products.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.