The Baltimore City Council postponed action Monday on a bill that would have banned the use of foam cups and containers for carryout food and drinks after several members withdrew their support.
Councilman James B. Kraft, the bill's chief sponsor, said he is still hopeful Baltimore can become the first major East Coast city to adopt such a ban.
Kraft, who represents Canton, Little Italy and Fells Point, said some council members expressed concern that the city needs to work toward a cultural shift that changes individual behaviors on littering, rather than a government edict.
"I've heard those concerns, and I believe those concerns can be addressed," Kraft said. "I want this bill to pass."
Polystyrene foam products are a visible sign of pollution problems in the Inner Harbor, where the plates, cups and containers float on the water's surface. The city is facing federal and state pressure to reduce waste from the harbor and other waterways that flow to the Chesapeake Bay.
And while polystyrene foam is recyclable, the products aren't biodegradable, like paper and cardboard. Baltimore doesn't accept polystyrene as part of its curbside recycling program, but residents can drop off the products at the Citizens Convenience Center on Sisson Street.
Similar bans are being considered in Philadelphia, Boston and New York City. Fast-food restaurants, including McDonald's and Burger King, have eliminated most foam during the past 25 years.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has not publicly voiced support or opposition to the legislation.
City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young and Councilman Carl Stokes oppose the ban in favor of a more comprehensive anti-litter campaign.
"Polystyrene isn't the only thing in the water," Young said. "Are we going to ban soda bottles now or soda cans? I keep saying this is a people problem. We have to change the habits of people, and let people know you do not throw these things in the gutter or in the sewers. You put them in the trash cans or you recycle. We cannot ban our way out of bad habits."
Councilman William H. Cole IV said he's torn on whether to support the ban. He said the city does need to rid the Inner Harbor of trash, including foam containers, but the ban would be costly to restaurants that would need to find alternatives for both hot and cold containers.
Cole said the council needs more time to debate solutions.
"It could be thousands of dollars a year for a small business that's already getting hit with stormwater fees and everything else, bottle taxes and the prospect of a bag tax," Cole said. "It's more than a singular issue."
The council sent the bill back to committee, where Kraft said he believes he can build support for eventual passage. For the legislation to pass, he needs the support of eight of the 15 council members.
His bill had the support of 11 council members when it was introduced. Kraft declined to name the council members who changed their position. He introduced similar legislation in 2006 and 2008 but eventually withdrew those bills.
In addition to the preference for cultivating a behavioral change, Kraft said, some council members pointed toward reservations expressed by the city's Commission on Sustainability in a letter last August.
The commission said that while it supported efforts to remove polystyrene waste from Baltimore's streets and waterways, it believed a more comprehensive approach was needed to curb littering.
But Cheryl Casciani, chairwoman of the city's Commission on Sustainability, said Monday she was stunned to hear that any members of the City Council might have used the panel's statement as a reason to oppose the bill.
"Polystyrene is horrible, horrible — get it out of here," she said. She said she hoped the commission could still work with Kraft and other council members to develop legislation that tackles both littering and some of its more visible elements, like foam and disposable bags.
Councilman Brandon M. Scott co-sponsored the bill but said he has unresolved questions about how the ban would be enforced. Under the legislation, restaurants and carryout places that violated the ban would be fined $1,000.
"In concept, I still support the ban," Scott said.
Stacey Pfingsten, who founded No Foam Chicago four years ago, said cities looking to pass similar bans have faced opposition from groups that support polystyrene foam manufactures.
"There is heavy lobbying and well-financed special-interest groups that are fighting these bans, often times with success," Pfingsten said. "They're influential. They are persuasive. They are effective at getting people to change their minds at the last minute."
Polystyrene bans take effect in Amherst and Brookline, Mass., in the coming months, according to No Foam Chicago.
Baltimore Sun reporter Timothy B. Wheeler contributed to this article.