Baltimore City Council committee unanimously votes to advance foam food and drink container ban

A Baltimore City Council committee voted Tuesday morning to advance a ban on polystyrene foam food and drink containers, setting up the environmental measure for likely final passage in coming weeks.

The idea of a ban has been considered before but failed to advance. The current version waited many months to get a hearing, but began moving forward last week.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke credited new council members elected in 2016 for the change in the measure’s prospects.

“These new people, they sure get things done,” Clarke said.

The committee vote was 7-0.

The ban has seven co-sponsors and City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young announced his support last week, after previously opposing the idea.

If that backing holds along with other members of the committee who voted in favor, the measure should easily pass the full council and be sent to the mayor.

The committee voted to extend the time businesses would have to comply with the ban from 90 days to 18 months.

The committee also committed to taking up amendments in front of the full council. One proposes to exempt meat packing plants and prepackaged food sold in supermarkets from the ban. Another would eliminate the possibility of jail time for violators.

The ban was introduced by Councilman John Bullock, who said he sees it as a way to clean up the Inner Harbor. The polystyrene foam, often known by the brand name Styrofoam, can get into the water where the items break down into smaller and smaller pieces.

The Mr. Trashwheel system has intercepted hundreds of thousands of the containers as they reach the harbor.

The ban is opposed by container manufacturers and lobbyists for retailers and restaurants, who say it will drive up costs at a time when businesses are struggling.

The committee declined to take up amendments proposed by business interests, including one that would have created an exemption for businesses found to face “undue hardship” from complying with the ban.

Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Washington, D.C. have already enacted similar bans.

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