Today the Prince George’s County Council voted unanimously to ban polystyrene foam food containers and packing material for distribution or sale at restaurants and retailers. The ban takes effect in July 2016.
This means that next year your takeout dinner, your coffee, and your family picnic lunch will all be in paper or rigid plastic containers, many of which are compostable or recyclable. If they end up as litter, they will dissolve in the water, or be more likely to be caught in a trash trap.
Prince George’s County joins Washington, DC, and Montgomery County in banning foam food packaging–this is great news for the Anacostia River watershed, as well as all of the neighborhoods and other rivers and streams in the region. It also levels the playing field for businesses and will create a powerful market force for alternative products; the demand for non-foam food packaging is about to explode!
We’ve been working with agencies in each jurisdiction to encourage collaboration in outreach to businesses, distributors, and retailers. We are also advocating for creation of a purchasing cooperative to help independent businesses band together and buy alternative products in bulk, driving down their unit costs and saving money. If DC, Montgomery, and Prince George’s all participate, the buying power could be tremendous.
The three laws are all a little bit different. Let’s break it down:
– DC bans foam food packaging at restaurants starting January 2016. It also requires that restaurants use recyclable or compostable materials for all disposable food ware (straws, lids, utensils) starting in 2017. The ban will be enforced with inspections by DDOE with fines imposed for violations.
– Montgomery County bans foam food packaging at restaurants, and the sale of foam food packaging and foam packing peanuts, starting January 2016. It also requires restaurants to use recyclable or compostable materials for disposable food ware starting in 2017. The ban will only be enforced by resident/consumer complaints.
– Prince George’s County bans foam food packaging at restaurants, and the sale of foam food packaging and foam packing peanuts, starting July 2016. The ban will be enforced with inspections by DOE with fines imposed for violations.
This is truly an amazing victory for the whole region. More than 2.5 million people live in these three jurisdictions, and all three councils voted for these laws unanimously. We made a compelling case for the environmental and public health rationales, and we demonstrated strong public support. We identified businesses who could make their case, and we blunted industry opposition with strong rebuttals and a little bit of persuasion.
Foam comprises a quarter to even 40% of the volume of trash in the Anacostia River, and we’ve now banned it from the entire watershed. We started Trash Free Maryland to solve problems like this, and less than five years later, we’ve made incredible progress.
Thank you to Councilmembers Hans Riemer and Mary Lehman and former Mayor Vincent Gray for your passion, your work, and your leadership to get this done. And thank you to all the other councilmembers, legislative and agency staff, and advocates who have made this happen.
Trash Free Maryland commits to staying on top of the implementation of these laws, ensuring that businesses have the necessary support they need, and that enforcement is in place. We want to see foam and all trash pollution out of our neighborhoods and waterways, and we are well on our way to that goal!