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In a ‘kind of nuts’ time for Carroll County businesses, Maryland delays ban on use of foam containers

In an effort to give small businesses and schools a chance to use up their stock of foam food and drink containers, the Maryland Department of the Environment announced Tuesday the state’s ban on the containers would not go into effect until October.

The statewide ban on polystyrene, better known by the brand name Styrofoam, was scheduled to begin July 1. Instead, it will start Oct. 1, or 30 days after Gov. Larry Hogan’s state of emergency is lifted, whichever is earlier, MDE announced in a public notice. The state of emergency was put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

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In a statement provided by an MDE spokesperson, Secretary Ben Grumbles explained the intent behind the change in deadline.

“MDE is fully committed to the success of the statewide foam ban law and is only providing a very limited, 90-day extension of time to help small businesses and schools that weren’t able to use up their existing inventories because of Covid-19,” Grumbles said in the emailed statement. “This is solely about finding a modest accommodation for those in need in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, while upholding an important new environmental law that could become a model for many other states.”

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When the full law goes into effect, a food service business or school may not sell or provide food or beverages made from polystyrene.

The delay does not apply to the sale of polystyrene food service products under section 9-2203(a) of the Environment Article, which continues to take effect July 1, according to the MDE notice. Food service businesses and schools may continue to use existing inventories of polystyrene food service products such as cups, plates, bowls and trays until Oct. 1, but will not be able to purchase additional polystyrene food service products after July 1, as the partial ban will be in effect.

Karen Sarno, supervisor of food services for Carroll County Public Schools, said in an email Tuesday evening, “We had used up 90% of our polystyrene and transitioned most of our inventory to new products. When schools closed 3 months early we used what we could in emergency feeding we now have a very small inventory in stock. We had planned on donating the small amount left (rather than destroying) but with the extension we will use it up in September if possible.”

Grumbles said MDE’s decision will not alter the effective dates of any county or municipal laws regarding the sale or use of these products.

The pandemic has led to the delay of another environmentally friendly measure. In Westminster, the mayor and council voted in May to push back its plastic bag ban by one year. That law restricts businesses from distributing single-use plastic bags under certain circumstances. It was originally slated to start July 1, but the council voted on May 11 to push it back one year to July 1, 2021.

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, has been a vocal supporter of the foam ban. On Tuesday, he said he agrees with the measure to push back the deadline to help local businesses.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Frazier said. “We certainly want businesses to be prosperous.”

Frazier is in favor of the foam ban in the future, but said he would not want it to cause a business to close its doors.

Local businesses have already been struggling in the past several months to survive during the pandemic, which led Hogan to order businesses to close their doors to the public. In recent weeks, he acted to allow outdoor dining at restaurants and, starting June 12, indoor dining — with social distancing restrictions still in place.

Frank Tunzi, co-owner of Buttersburg Inn in Union Bridge, said Tuesday afternoon he wasn’t aware of the deadline extension because the staff has been so busy with reopening for indoor dining.

“We’re ready. Whenever they want to do it, we’re willing to,” he said, though he added that he was happy for the extension because it gives him more time to look at alternatives.

“That works, it gives us a little time. The last three months have been kind of nuts,” he said. The restaurant has had to adjust hours and make drastic changes to its business model on short notice.

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Right now, some alternatives to foam containers can be double the price, Tunzi said. But he predicts that as demand grows, prices will drop.

Overall, Tunzi said of the policy, “It’s a good thing. I think it’s good and we need to do what we have to do to better the environment.”

Those with questions about the Polystyrene (EPS) Food Service Products Ban may visit the Maryland Department of the Environment EPS Ban page, or contact Cheryl Chaney, community hygiene program manager, at cheryl.chaney@maryland.gov or 410-876-4878.

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