We’ve seen a lot of progress in policies to reduce litter at the local level in Maryland, from disposable bag laws in Montgomery County and Chestertown, to polystyrene foam bans in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, and persistent efforts to take action in Baltimore City.
The General Assembly took action on exfoliating plastic microbeads in 2015, passing the first strong ban on their use in personal care products–and leading to a federal ban that phases in starting this summer! Legislators recognized that this one ingredient was creating water pollution and potentially harming fish and other aquatic life, and took bold steps to stop it.
This year we asked the General Assembly to tackle another toxic pollutant: polystyrene. In its manufacture and use, it exposes people to increased cancer risk. In the water, it absorbs more chemicals from the water than any other plastic, and exposes fish to unsafe levels of pesticides and fertilizers. It’s also a bigger litter problem than other items; it’s only 1% of the waste stream but in a stream cleanup it’s anywhere from 10 to even 40% of the litter collected.
It’s time to make polystyrene a pollutant of the past in Maryland. Alternative packaging, whether paper or rigid plastic, is already readily available, and if businesses demand alternatives en masse, we’ll see access and options increase even more.
In 2017, we worked with Delegate Brooke Lierman (District 46, Baltimore City) and Senator Cheryl Kagan (District 17, Montgomery County) to introduce a bill to phase out polystyrene foam food packaging across Maryland.
The law was modeled on the program in Prince George’s County, which started in July 2016. It bans foam food packaging like cups, plates, and clamshell containers from food businesses and other food providers. It also bans their sale at retail outlets, and it bans the sale of foam packing peanuts
It allows businesses to use up their existing stock, and to apply for a one-year exemption if no affordable alternative exists.
Maryland could be the proving ground for all kinds of innovative sustainable packaging, supporting the growing food waste composting industry and helping the state and counties meet waste reduction goals.
Unfortunately the bill did not pass this year, but we look forward to working with the House Environment & Transportation Committee this summer to explore the issue of plastic pollution and policy solutions.
Are you a business owner interested in alternative packaging? Here’s a list of distributors of recyclable and compostable products. Curious about how this would work? Check out the FAQ from Prince George’s County.