After three years, more than 1,200 hours, 120 coalition meetings, 36,000 constituent contacts, and some 500 miles walked, Maryland is the first state to ban expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam food products: a victory by and for the village that has called, written, advocated and educated on why food service foam is threatening our environmental and public health. While we still await action (or not) from Governor Hogan, the veto-proof majority vote in both chambers helps ensure that in due time, this bill will become law.
While the growing challenge of plastic and trash pollution has dovetailed with heightened concern thanks to media coverage, new documentaries, and in the context of a shifting recycling and waste management market and system in light of the National Sword Policy, the Maryland press and outlets around the nation took notice of what was happening right here. More than 100 news outlets including the Baltimore Sun, Washington Post, Maryland Daily Record, Cecil Whig, Herald Mail, Southern Maryland News, Delmarva Now, WBAL, Fox5, NBC Washington, WMDT, and Maryland Public Television reported on this groundbreaking achievement.
Nationally – CNN, National Geographic, Fox News, Yahoo News, CNBC, Associated Press, Global Citizen and local outlets around the United States such as the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the Sacramento Bee reported on this first in the nation ban on this insidious pollutant. The “Story of Stuff” and numerous allies across the nation shared these stories, and amplified the dialogue around the decisive actions needed to address pollution – actions that are diverse and multi-pronged, and of which this is a significant, albeit an initial, step in the right direction.
Now we are getting requests from other states and organizations to share resources so they so they can join our foam-free efforts. And Maryland has officially distinguished itself as a leader in the fight to address trash pollution.
Delegate Brooke Lierman (D-46) and Senator Cheryl Kagan (D-17) have championed this legislation since 2017, nurturing understanding and support in their respective chambers that culminated it the bill’s designated as 2019 priority legislation by House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Mike Miller. On April 3, House Bill 109/Senate Bill 285 passed with overwhelming majorities.
So for those wanting final clarity on what the final passed bill will do, the legislation:
- prohibits food service businesses such as restaurants, coffee shops, and institutional cafeterias in hospitals and schools, from using EPS foam products such as plates, take-out containers and cups, intended by the manufacturer to be used once for eating or drinking or generally recognized by the public to be discarded after one use.
- It also prohibits these foam products from being sold in retail to the consumer.
- It permits products packaged before they reaches the food service business, such as eggs packaged before receipt by a grocery store, to be in foam, as well as foam trays used to package raw meat, poultry, or seafood.
- It does not require a specific alternative, leaving those options open for businesses to select the products that work best for their business and budget.
- As a consumer though, you can still BYO and further the progress to reduce waste outright, and as more jurisdictions and municipalities are exploring how to improve or expand diversion – both recycling and composting – product shifts can in turn work to align with the systems and solutions in place in their respective community.
- It only applies to food service foam – it does not affect “block foam” often used to package items for transport.
- Enforcement will be by complaint to the department that each county chooses to enforce this law.
- The ban takes effect on July 1, 2020 with the possibility of a one-year grace period if the business requests additional time.
Following the Governor signing the bill or taking no action by May 23, the next step will be for Cities and Counties to develop and implement programs to educate their businesses on the new law. As a result of the successful education programs in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, no businesses have applied for waiver and implementation has been smooth, and both serve as models for education, implementation and enforcement. Baltimore City, the City of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County all passed local bans prior to the state bill, and thus have already begun some of this work.
There is a lot of work, research, and nuance that goes into drafting a bill, and how it progresses through committee hearings and votes, before what it then endures on the floor of the House and/or Senate. While this bill allows for some exemptions, everyone can vote with their dollar and choose to patronize businesses and products that avoid using foam. It’s on it’s way out, and this ban will accelerate that in Maryland and beyond.
While we have been “foam focused” for a few years now, we also worked on a number of other bills this legislative session:
During the 2019 Session, SB370, sponsored by Senator Chris West (R-42), which requires office buildings with more than 150,000 square feet to implement recycling programs, also passed, albeit it still leaves a lot of businesses and entities not covered. House Bill 502, sponsored by Delegate Terri Hill (D-12), which would establish a reuse and recycling program for mattresses and box springs passed the House but was not voted on in the Senate. And other bills to require restaurants only provide straws on request, that hotels and motels provide clear information to guests on what can be recycled on site, and creating a task force to develop recommendations on storm drain pollution, were withdrawn or did not make it to the floor for votes. We anticipate discussions over the coming weeks to explore how these, similar or complementary bills will re-emerge in 2020.
The most important part of this post: that this was a team effort, over time, and that teamwork truly made the dream work! We applaud every Delegate and Senator who voted favorably for this legislation. We are grateful of course to our sponsors Delegate Lierman and Senator Kagan for their tenacity and fortitude over these three years, and the way they have embraced the issue of trash pollution as one both pertinent and paramount, as well as their staff, especially Kimberly Shiloh and Ryan Kirby, for keeping us all informed and organized amidst the rapid pace of the legislative session.
We must also thank those who have championed foam bans locally throughout Maryland, helping to reduce and eliminate use of this hazardous material, while creating both a tipping point and proof of concept to ultimately succeed in a statewide ban.
And we are immensely grateful for our many committed partners in this effort, without whom we certainly would not be able to celebrate this significant and historic success. And we hope you’ll continue to join us as we continue to advocate for root-cause solutions to litter and waste.
A special thank you to the Maryland League of Conservation Voters and The Maryland Sierra Club, namely Karla Raettig, Kristen Harbeson, Josh Tulkin, Sydney Jacobs and Martha Ainsworth, for the many hours of strategizing, researching, and coordinating, on top of direct advocacy and outreach to encourage passage of this ban.
We also want to acknowledge the members of the diverse coalition for a Foam Free MD. Without this entire team, we would not be on the precipice we are today, proudly looking back and where we’ve come from up, and determinedly looking ahead to the work still needed to ensure clean and healthy waterways for all.
Alice Ferguson Foundation
Alderman Rob Savidge, City of Annapolis and the Annapolis City Council
Anacostia Watershed Community Advisory Committee (AWCAC)
Annapolis Environmental Commission
Arundel Rivers Federation
Assateague Coastal Trust
Baltimore Beyond Plastic
Baltimore City Public School System
Baltimore Office of Sustainability
Blue Water Baltimore
Chesapeake Bay Commission
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Chesapeake Climate Action Network
City Councilman, John Bullock, Baltimore
Clean Water Action
Coastal Conservation Association
Councilwoman Lisa Rodvien, and the Anne Arundel County Council
County Executive Steuart Pittman
Friends of Deep Creek Lake
Friends of Northwest Branch
Humane Society of the United States
Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake
Kent Island Beach Clean Ups
Less Plastic Please
Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education
Maryland League of Women Voters
Maryland Public Health Association
Maryland Public Interest Research Group
Maryland Ornithological Society
Mayor of Salisbury, Jacob Day
MD Environmental Health Network
MOM’s Organic Market
Montgomery County Board of Education
Montgomery County Department of the Environment
Neighbors of Northwest Branch
Pick Up Your Plastic
Plastic Free QAC
The Potomac Conservancy
Prince George’s County Department of the Environment
Rachel Carson Council
Rock Creek Conservancy
Save Back River
South River Federation
Surfrider Foundation and Surfrider Ocean City Chapter
Takoma Park Mobilization Environmental Committee
The Salisbury School
Transition Howard County
University Park Town Council
Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore
WISE (Women Indivisible Strong Effective)