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Expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam food packaging is a major component of litter in Maryland’s waterways. Among the Chesapeake Bay’s tidal waters, the EPA has identified three regions of concern: Baltimore Harbor, the Anacostia River, and the Elizabeth River (VA). Since 2014, 920,154 EPS foam containers have been removed from the Baltimore Harbor alone. EPS foam comprises 25-40% of the trash, by volume, pulled from the Anacostia River before it was able to reach the Chesapeake Bay.
EPS foam is a very significant litter issue. While it represents only 1% of the waste stream, it comprises 10-40% of the litter collected during stream cleanups. The fragile nature of EPS foam causes it to break into millions of tiny pieces upon entering our environment, making it nearly impossible to successfully remove from our waterways. Once in this microplastic size form, it is easily mistaken for food by marine life, and is being found back upstream in consumables from tap and bottled water, to table salt and beer. EPS foam can rarely be recycled and municipal curbside collection of EPS foam in Maryland is nonexistent based upon its viability and value as a post-consumer product. Once EPS foam becomes part of the waste stream, it commonly gets washed or blown into our storm drains and rivers, where it absorbs 10 times more pesticides, fertilizers, and chemicals than other kinds of plastic, increasing exposure to toxins for marine life.
Del. Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore City) and Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-Montgomery County) introduced legislation to restrict the sale and use of EPS foam food packaging in Maryland
Why support a restriction on sale and use of EPS foam food packaging?
We are not reinventing the wheel: 115 jurisdictions in 11 states have passed a foam ban, including Montgomery & Prince George's Counties and the cities of Gaithersburg, Rockville, & Takoma Park, Baltimore and Annapolis, and a state ban would ensure consistency and equity.
A statewide restriction on EPS foam food packaging will drive innovation in materials and products; support food waste composting and zero waste goals; and protect public health, our waterways, and our environment.
People and wildlife that come in contact with this litter will be exposed to increased health risks. It is made of fossil fuels and synthetic chemicals. Styrene, a chief chemical component, is a known carcinogen that leaches into hot liquids and foods.
To protect Maryland's waterways and communities, the bill:
- Starting January 2020, prohibits food service businesses and institutions from serving food in EPS foam packaging (cups, plates, clamshells). The bill also prohibits the retails sale of these products in the state. It would not apply to products packaged outside the site.
- Includes provisions allowing businesses to use up existing stock and a grace period in enforcement. The bill also includes a one-year waiver if no affordable alternative packaging is available (Prince George's County and Montgomery County also have waivers, though no entity has applied for the waiver because affordable alternatives are widely available).
- Agency outreach will help businesses upgrade their service model in a cost-efficient way.
- Requires MDE to conduct outreach to businesses, and local health departments to enforce through existing inspections.
- Puts us one step closer to more fishable and swimmable water in Maryland, and supports the Waste Reduction and Resource Recovery Executive Order.