Maryland Wants to Ban Polystyrene
January 31, 2017
Today Maryland’s Environmental and Education committee’s heard testimony on the “Polystyrene Food Service Products and Loose Fill Packaging Prohibition,” or SB 186. If passed, it would be the country’s first statewide ban of Styrofoam food and loose-fill EPS (packing peanuts). SB186 Written and introduced by Sen. Cheryl Kagan of Maryland District 17, Mont. Co., Kagan gave testimony on her concern about hot foods delivered in expanded polystyrene (EPS), commonly known as Styrofoam, and “God forbid,” microwaved, which can cause polystyrene to break down to its simpliest form, styrene and then leach into food. In 2011 Styrene was added to the National Institute of Healths list of likely carcinogens. She also, shared concerns about the effects littered EPS has on Maryland’s fishing and tourism industries. Similar to a sponge for 10 times more toxic compounds and pesticides than other plastics. She argued that cost should not be a concern for businesses and cited information gathered from Montgomery County Schools, where Styrofoam was banned January 1, 2016. Montgomery County reported switching from foam to paper yielded no additional cost to the school system.
Julie Lawson founder and Ex.Dir. of Trash Free Maryland testimony included data collected from trash troll studies done on Maryland’s water shed, which found that of the litter collected “40% was foam packaging pollution,” which seems to contradict the assumption made by Maryland Waste Management observation that EPS foam makes up only 1% of Maryland’s trash. However, the main characteristic of EPS is the large volume and low density so weight is not a good measure. Ms. Lawson also testified that the chemical makeup of packaging foam, essentially puffed plastic, causes it to absorb ten times the chemicals of other plastics and therefore when consumed in the wild is more toxic to mammals, marine life, and fowl. She cited the numerous challenges to recycling ESP in Maryland, mainly no structured collection and drop off sites are not easily located.
Dr. Richard Bruno a physician with Med Star Franklin Square in residency at John’s Hopkins Public Health, called styrene of the chemical building block of Styrofoam, “dangerous to consumers.” He describes how styrene leaches from packing to contents, especially when the liquid or food inside the container is hot. He described how the porous nature of Styrofoam bioaccumulates pesticides and other chemicals that when carelessly discarded become a spongy snack for fish and fowl that consume it ad increasing potential exposure to people who eat Maryland fish?
Testifying on behalf of the American Chemistry Council, who strongly opposes the ban, Mike Levy Dir. of the Foodservice Packaging Division reminded the committee that the FDA has approved certain levels of styrene food packaging. The additional testimony cited numerous items people encounter every day that have styrene in them and some that occur naturally. Conflicting views such as these have left consumers bewildered and confused about eating and drinking out of Styrofoam. There was a discussion about amending the bill to include Expanded PolyStyrene.
Further complicating the issue many cups and plates that are used as an alternative to Styrofoam are not recyclable. Paul Poe, a representative of the Dart Container Corp located in Maryland since 1975 and employing 700 people in manufacturing shared a long list of items that would be affected by the ban, including “plastic cutlery, Starbucks coffee container tops and some clear plastic,” stating all those items contain polystyrene. He noted that currently “none of the compostable food containers in use in Maryland is being composted.” He warned the board that right now Dart picks up and recycles all forms of Styrofoam in certain areas of Maryland, but only produces food service Styrofoam, should the ban take effect, Dart would have not incentive to recycle the material, leaving Marylanders to deal the bulk packaging disposal on there own.
Styrofoam is a castaway. In many ways it has also become a scapegoat for communities in which government, business, and citizens would rather deal in all or nothing rather than address the dinosaur in the room, EPS is a carbon-based product that is easily recycled. The challenge is volume v/s weight. If it is collected, condensed and sold EPS is a commodity. There are plenty of opportunities for savvy investors and entrepreneurs to pick up the problem and dispose of it properly while recouping their costs and making a slight profit.
One final observation, as we were leaving we noted several glass and plastic bottles left behind in the waiting room of the Maryland State House following the Education and Environmental Committee meeting on SB186. No recycling containers were around, just a few trash cans. One example of the contents here. It seemed odd that not one speaker paused to notice. You’ll be glad to know we rescued the recyclable items from the waste stream.
Maryland State House trash can.