DC bans the foam

It’s summer, so we’ll take a short trip to the south…

In a marathon session before summer recess, the DC Council held its final vote today on the Sustainable DC Omnibus Act of 2013, unanimously passing 11 environmental measures, most notably a ban on polystyrene foam food containers. While dozens of cities on the West Coast have enacted such policies, DC is the first major city on the East Coast to do so.

Polystyrene is a major contributor to trash pollution, comprising roughly a quarter of the volume of trash collected at trash traps in Anacostia River tributaries. It breaks into impossibly small pieces, making it difficult to collect, and recycling is not viable.

The ban, which takes effect January 1, 2016, will cover carryout food containers like cups, plates, and clamshells from restaurants, grocery stores, and takeouts. In 2017, all disposable food service ware in the city, including lids, straws, and utensils, will have to be recyclable or compostable.

The bill was amended today to remove meat trays from the list of banned items. The amendment also requires that the District conduct a study of trash on the Anacostia River by 2016. The ban is not contingent on the study, and it could prove very helpful to demonstrate how effective trash reduction activities have been since the last major study in 2008. (Ongoing tracking of material caught in traps shows trends–like reductions in plastic bags.)

Trash Free Maryland director Julie Lawson worked closely on the campaign, keeping TFMD members informed and identifying strategies for getting them involved. She also directly lobbied councilmembers, wrote an article for Greater Greater Washington, kept the issue on the forefront of social media, and worked with outside stakeholders to either garner support or keep them on the sidelines. The original bill language proposed an effective date of 2018; we successfully argued to move it up to 2016.

Thanks to the TFMD members who were instrumental in this victory, including Alice Ferguson Foundation, Anacostia Riverkeeper, Anacostia Watershed Society, Clean Water Action, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and the DC Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. Thanks also to our DC partners, DC Environmental Network and the Sierra Club DC Chapter.

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