OCEAN CITY – Representatives with the local health department outlined efforts to enforce an upcoming ban on polystyrene food service products in a resort committee meeting last week.
Earlier this month, the Ocean City Coastal Resources Legislative Committee, or Green Team, invited representatives from the Worcester County Health Department to provide an update on education and enforcement measures related to the polystyrene ban.
In March, both the state Senate and House of Delegates passed a bill to ban expanded polystyrene (EPS) food service products. The legislation would largely affect the food service industry and schools in Maryland, as it prohibits a food service business or school from selling or providing food or beverage in EPS foam food service products.
The legislation, which goes into effect on July 1, bans polystyrene carryout containers, plates, hot and cold beverage cups, trays and egg cartons, to name a few examples.
As part of the ban, the Maryland Department of the Environment was tasked with the educational component of distributed posters, guidelines and other informational materials. Enforcement measures, however, have been delegated to the local health departments.
Ed Potez, director of environmental health for the Worcester County Health Department, told the committee last week that his agency was still in the process of understanding the polystyrene ban and informing local businesses and temporary vendors.
“This is completely new for us,” he said.
Potez said county agencies have been authorized to impose penalties of up to $250 for violations not corrected within three months of a written notice. He noted, however, that it was not the health department’s intention to issue fines once the ban goes into effect.
“That’s not our position right now,” he said. “Our goal is not to fine … Our goal is to get them off them market.”
Potez said the agency was currently working to draft a letter informing food vendors and businesses of the ban. He said he expected the legislation to greatly impact some local organizations.
“It’s really going to hit our organizations,” he said. “Our fire departments and churches have stockpiles of Styrofoam [products].”
Businesses and schools must comply with the law when it goes into effect on July 1. But Potez told the committee last week businesses and schools can seek a waiver for up to one year in order to use its existing polystyrene products.
When asked how the committee could help, Potez encouraged members to share information online or reach out to members of their respective agencies. He said the health department would also share information during restaurant inspections and at the annual Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Trade Expo in March.
“I think by July 1, a majority of people that this is going to affect will know something about it,” he said.
Potez said he hoped the implementation of the polystyrene ban would be as easy as Maryland’s Clean Indoor Air Act, legislation passed in 2007 that prohibited smoking in indoor areas open to the public.
“It’s almost like the smoking ban,” he said. “Everyone thought we were going to have all these problems and it went as smooth as can be … I’m hoping it goes the same way.”
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. 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.