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Before foam container ban goes into effect, Carroll County businesses face task of finding alternatives

Before foam container ban goes into effect, Carroll County businesses face task of finding alternatives
A coffee cup made from polystyrene foam, commonly known as Styrofoam, lies on the side of a road in Augusta, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty / AP)

Carroll County food industry employees and owners are facing the prospect of increased costs when a statewide ban on foam food and drink containers goes into effect next year.

The ban, which Gov. Larry Hogan’s office announced on May 24 would become law without his signature, prohibits food service businesses, grocery stores, and hospital or school cafeterias from selling or providing food or beverages in a material called expanded polystyrene foam.

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The material, which many mistakenly refer to by the brand name Styrofoam, is intended by the manufacturer to be used once and discarded afterward, and it is not biodegradable or easily recyclable.

The statewide ban — expected to be the first in the nation — on foam food and drink containers will go into effect July 1, 2020. Violators would face fines up to $250.

The Carroll County Chamber of Commerce opposes the legislation.

“Polystyrene is a cost-effective product that has been used in this country for decades. The [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] has been evaluating polystyrene for over 50 years and has always considered it safe,” Chamber of Commerce President Mike McMullin said in an email. “This ban would create significant cost increases for the food service industry which already has one of the lowest profit margins among businesses. The Carroll County Chamber of Commerce opposes any legislation that creates significant cost increases and potential job loss through the unilateral prohibition of longstanding, commonplace practices used by existing businesses in Carroll County and the state of Maryland.”

Local food industry employers are mainly thinking of price increases that will affect their businesses.

“My biggest concern is that the containers that will replace the [polystyrene] are twice the price,” Frank Tunzi, co-owner of Buttersburg Inn in Union Bridge, told the Times via Facebook.

“As a restaurant manager I see a lot changing from it. Mainly prices of food. If you’re in a small business restaurant/bar most will raise prices so we can buy ecofriendly supplies, which is not cheap,” Kevin Joe Schuette, manager at Upper Deck Sports Bar in Mount Airy, told the Times via Facebook. “People complain about price hikes on everything, and now small businesses will feel the effect since larger corporations won’t have to adjust pricing.”

Despite the potential financial strain that the ban could introduce to businesses, Schuette said that personally he supports the environmental mission of the new law.

“I personally love that the state is going eco friendly … All in all I think it’s a great deal, but people will have to get used to higher priced items in everyday life as we make the earth better (or try too at least),” Schuette elaborated in a Facebook message to the Times.

Baldwin’s Station, at 7618 Main St. in Sykesville, is currently exploring options to accommodate their large entrees.

“We do a fair amount of carryout and doggie bags; we have some sales people bringing in some alternative options,” general manager Dave Young said. “We’re just trying to get ahead of it. It’s just tricky because we do large entrees and some alternatives don’t do well under heat and aren’t good for larger entrees.”

At Sea King Crab House in Ellicott City, owner Eric King estimated an increase from 5 cents per foam container to $1 or more for plastic alternatives.

Proponents of the ban say restaurants elsewhere have accommodated the bans without significant impact on them or their customers. Since Prince George’s and Montgomery counties approved foam bans in 2016, no businesses have come forward seeking exemption, and stream banks have gotten noticeably cleaner, said Adam Ortiz, the former environmental director in Prince George’s, who now holds a similar position in Montgomery.

“It’s hard for a restaurant to make the case they need styrofoam when there’s literally hundreds examples of other businesses that have chosen more sustainable products,” Ortiz said. “We’ve seen little to no styrofoam on the side of the road or in streams.”

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Baldwin’s Station is currently exploring some paper, thick plastic and cardboard options to switch to. As the date approaches for the ban to go into effect, the Sykesville restaurant won’t be alone.

Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance contributed information to this report.

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