Just as Baltimore approved a ban on polystyrene foam food containers, a General Assembly proposal to prohibit the materials from restaurants and schools across Maryland appears in peril.
A House of Delegates committee voted it down Friday, and a Senate panel raised concerns about it Tuesday.
The legislation would have made Maryland the first state to ban polystyrene foam. Baltimore City Council voted to join Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in prohibiting it Monday night.
Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat sponsoring the bill, called the House panel’s vote “both disappointing and infuriating.” Once legislation is voted down in any committee, it’s typically considered “dead.”
But Del. Brooke Lierman, a Baltimore Democrat sponsoring the House version of the legislation, added that, “like in baseball, ‘it ain’t over till it’s over.’”
The legislation was assigned to two House committees and two Senate committees — one in the House rejected it, while a Senate panel approved it. Lierman called on the remaining two committees to take the measure up.
“If we are ultimately unsuccessful this year, I will work with members of the committee over the interim and, if I am re-elected, I will re-file this bill on the first day of the next legislative session,” she said. “Preserving our water and protecting public health through banning noxious products like EPS foam is too important to give up on.”
Del. Kumar Barve, chairman of the House committee that has not yet voted on the foam ban, said there were concerns about whether it might inadvertently send more material into landfills, potentially producing more emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Proponents of the ban said it’s needed to reduce litter, but Barve, a Montgomery Democrat, said that concern was most significant in Baltimore, which has now acted on its own to ban the foam.
Dels. Talmadge Branch and Cheryl Glenn, both Baltimore Democrats, were among those who voted against the House bill. Branch said he saw it as an issue for local governments to handle.
Glenn said she was concerned about its impact on businesses. She is among the lawmakers pushing to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15, and also noted the General Assembly’s votes in January overriding Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a policy requiring many businesses to offer part-time workers at least five paid sick days.
Business groups told lawmakers the cost of alternatives to polystyrene foam would cut into already thin profit margins.
“In my opinion, you can’t pile on too heavily with something that would be devastating to the businesses,” Glenn said.
The proposal would have only applied to the food service industry and schools, and would not have affected packaging for electronics or supermarket meat, among other exceptions.
Often known by the trademarked name Styrofoam, polystyrene foam is made of plastic that is treated so it expands into a foam. Environmentalists say it is difficult to clean up once littered, and that it can’t be recycled once it has been contaminated with food.
Senators delayed a committee vote on the proposal Tuesday after discussing potentially significant hangups with it, and with a looming Monday deadline before legislation must advance to the opposite General Assembly chamber. It faced questions and criticisms from Republicans as well as conservative Democrats concerned about its impact on restaurants.
“We just hit them with paid sick leave,” said Senate Minority Whip Stephen Hershey, of the Eastern Shore.
As the discussion was wrapping up, senators were told that one House committee had already rejected the bill, prompting some to ask why they were even bothering to consider it. They are scheduled to resume the discussion Wednesday.