Maryland Becomes the First State to Ban Styrofoam Food Containers

Maryland is making a change to the way its residents can take home their food.

Starting Thursday, the state will become the first in the nation to ban foam containers that are used to carry home meals, prohibiting restaurants, schools and other food service outlets from using Styrofoam containers. The law also includes items such as foam cups, plates and trays.

According to The Baltimore Sun, the law was originally set to take effect beginning on July 1, but because of shutdowns related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, state officials allowed more time for affected businesses to effectively prepare.

Several areas in Maryland have already implemented foam bans, including Montgomery, Baltimore City, Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties.

Similarly, Maine, New York and Vermont have passed bans on polystyrene food containers as well, although those states have yet put their bans into effect. Other states are also weighing similar legislation, the outlet adds.

The new law comes amid the current health crisis, in which restaurants are using disposable containers, as well as single-use plates and utensils, to curb the spread of COVID-19. And for many, the change is unwelcome.

"Polystyrene foam packaging and containers provide business owners and consumers with a cost-effective and environmentally preferable choice that is ideal for protecting food and preventing food waste, particularly when used for food service," the American Chemistry Council said in a statement, per CNN. "Foam packaging is generally more than 90 percent air and has a lighter environmental impact than alternatives."

Dan Schuman, who owns Captain Dan’s Crabhouse in Eldersburg echoed those sentiments in a statement to the Associated Press, telling the outlet that he will be left with no choice but to raise prices to cover the costs of the more expensive and alternative containers.

"We don’t like increased costs," he said. “No restaurant does. Because we have to pass that onto the customer."

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But on the other hand, many environmentalists are praising the legislation and sharing that it is necessary to ensure a brighter and greener future.

"Single-use plastics are overrunning our oceans and bays and neighborhoods," Democratic Delegate Brooke Lierman, the main sponsor of the House bill, told CNN when it passed in 2019. "We need to take dramatic steps to start stemming our use and reliance on them … to leave future generations a planet full of wildlife and green space."

Ben Grumbles, who serves as the state’s environment secretary, said Maryland’s law will serve as a model for future states looking to follow suit.

"We will learn how best to implement it," Grumbles said, according to the AP, "and other states will watch us closely."

Food service businesses or schools that may not be able to adapt to the change can also apply for a waiver for up to one year if the Maryland Department of the Environment finds that following the law would "present an undue hardship or a practical difficulty" to them.

The state is also allowed to impose a penalty "not exceeding $250 on a person or food service business that violates any part of the law."

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