Shariff left a job at a bank to help his father realize his dream of owning — rather than working in — a Mexican restaurant. Switching to plastic containers, which he said cost 15 cents compared with seven cents, would squeeze margins even more.

"Our customers are not ready to pay the extra costs," said Shariff, who provides some plastic containers for customers who request them.

For Young Hwang, boxing up his fried chicken in polystyrene keeps the thighs, drumsticks and livers hotter and not soggy. He made some small changes at his Super Fried Chicken stand, like providing plastic bags only when a customer requests them, to address environmental concerns.

"It's good for the service," Hwang said of the foam takeout boxes. "To cool down faster is not great for the customer."

Kraft argues the potential effect on businesses is overblown and he has pledged to continue to push for the ban. He said he could call for a hearing any time over the next three years once he believes he has rebuilt enough support for the ban to pass.

"Styrofoam is a very easy pollutant for people to identify — all they have to do is go to [the] harbor and they see it," Kraft said. "And it's a very easy pollutant to remove because there are so many other materials to use. Most of your fast food industry doesn't use Styrofoam anymore."

Kraft first proposed a ban in 2006.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the mayor would sign a ban should one get to her desk. But that's unlikely, according to Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young.

"Listen, it's not business-friendly, and I am not going to support it," Young said. "It's a people problem. It's not a product problem. People need to dispose of things that they feel are environmentally unsafe in a proper manner. We can't just outlaw everything."

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said she continues to support a ban and believes imposing one in Baltimore is only a matter of time.

"Styrene lives forever, clogging up storm drains and our waterways," Clarke said. "We need to eliminate it from Baltimore City. A year after we do everyone will find a way to cope successfully."

Councilman Bill Henry said that while he pledged his support to the legislation, he would prefer a different solution. He said when approached by the American Chemistry Council on the issue, he encouraged the organization to help the city devise ways to expand its polystyrene recycling.

The industry group offers cash prizes for the Clean Community Competition, which judges Baltimore neighborhoods based on efforts to keep streets and alleys debris-free and storm drains clear. He said the industry may find more success creating behavioral change by reinvesting that money in a curbside polystyrene recycling program.

"You still have to have people pick it up off the ground and put it in the container," Henry said. "We've got to teach thousands of our residents that the ground is not an appropriate trash or recycling container."

The foam can be recycled but isn't biodegradable. The city accepts the cups and containers at its recycling center on Sisson Street, but the foam products aren't part of the curbside pickup program.

Halle Van der Gaag, director of Blue Water Baltimore, said the consensus among environmentalists is that polystyrene is hazardous to birds, fish and ecosystems. But the timing might not be right for the city to force a ban.

"We just need to look at it and understand the issue comprehensively," Van der Gaag said. "If we're banning Styrofoam, we have to make sure we're not replacing it with another source of trash."

ywenger@baltsun.com

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