Education Efforts Underway On Carryout Changes

OCEAN CITY – Officials in Ocean City are looking to prepare resort businesses for a polystyrene ban that goes into effect next July.

Last week, the Ocean City Coastal Resources Legislative Committee, or Green Team, revisited efforts to prepare resort businesses for a statewide ban on certain polystyrene products.

In March, 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.

Gail Blazer, the town’s environmental engineer, told the committee the state’s ban would go into effect on July 1, 2020, giving local businesses time to prepare and explore alternatives.

“Food service products of any kind left in any food service inventory should be used by July 1, 2020, when law goes into effect on and after that date,” she said.

Melanie Pursel, president and CEO of the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, said the Maryland Department of the Environment – the agency tasked with educating the public on the ban – had already sent out posters, guidelines and other informational materials for businesses to use.

“We are going to be including it in all of our e-marketing until July,” she said.

Pursel also questioned what the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association was doing to educate its members. She said there could be opportunities to set up information booths at the association’s annual trade show, which takes place in March, and arrange information sessions.

Mother’s Cantina owner Ryan James said he was also willing to help businesses as they make the transition away from polystyrene products.

He explained his restaurant uses alternative to-go containers and educates patrons on any surcharges. He said his customers do not mind paying more for an alternative product.

“The to-go button at our restaurant charges 12 cents …,” he said. “We’ve had zero complaints.”

Councilman Tony DeLuca, who chairs the committee, said he was concerned the ban could affect the resort’s smaller businesses.

“The concern I always had was for the smallest business, the ma-and-pa who’s just making it …,” he said. “That paper cost can kill them.”

James, however, said customers would be willing to pay more for quality.

“My pushback on that is they can pass it through to the customer, and the customer doesn’t mind paying it …,” he said. “If they don’t have the quality then their problem is bigger than Styrofoam packaging. They need to revisit their business model.”

Gail Blazer, the town’s environmental engineer, said education was the key to a successful transition. She said the town could send out press releases and share social media posts.

“This is going to be an ongoing effort,” she said.

Committee members also agreed that officials from the Worcester County Health Department – which would oversee enforcement – should be invited to any meetings or information sessions that are held.

“You have the education and compliance piece,” Pursel said. “Then you have the enforcement and the fees.”

With no further discussion, members of the Green Team agreed to revisit ongoing efforts related to the polystyrene ban.

“We’ve got to keep this on each agenda,” DeLuca said.

It should be noted that 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.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

Alternative Text

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.