On January 31, Maryland lawmakers will discuss Senate Bill 186 (SB 186), which proposes banning polystyrene food service packaging statewide. The Maryland House version (HB 229) of the SB 186 will have committee hearings in the House on February 15. This proposed ban could have drastic consequences for schools, restaurants, and small businesses across the state.
Polystyrene foam is used most often for clamshell take-out containers, hot and cold beverage cups, plates, meat and vegetable trays, and egg cartons. Polystyrene foam—not to be confused with Styrofoam, a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company—can easily be identified by the #6 chasing arrows symbol stamped on these products.
Senate Bill 186 would apply to restaurants, fast food establishments, cafes, delis, coffee shops, grocery stores, vending trucks and carts, food trucks, movie theaters, dinner theaters, and business or institutional cafeterias—notably schools, hospitals, prisons, and soup kitchens.
Obviously, many businesses in Maryland—both big and small—rely on polystyrene foam for cost-effective, durable products. Without foam, restaurant owners and small business owners would have to resort to more expensive alternatives, leading to them either eating the sunken costs or increasing prices for their customers.
Similarly, any ban of foam food containers would affect local schools. School districts across the country also rely on foam to keep costs down because a foam tray costs significantly less than alternatives. By investing in education instead of cafeteria trays, schools can better serve their teachers, students, and communities.
Foam ban advocates argue that polystyrene should be banned because it has a negative impact on the environment and it is too hard to recycle. But that’s simply not the case. Polystyrene can be, and is recycled in areas across the country, including Maryland.
After collection, polystyrene foam can be recycled into domestic building products, surfboards, rulers, smoke detectors, garden nursery trays, and crown molding. Also, since it is a thermoplastic, foam can be recycled over and over again.
Rather than an outright ban, Maryland legislators should shift their focus to the logical alternative: recycling.