No veto override for plastic foam ban bill

Chase Cook
Contact Reporterccook@capgaznews.com

The plastic foam container ban was officially defeated Monday after the Anne Arundel County Council failed to schedule an override vote for its next meeting.

Councilman Chris Trumbauer, D-Annapolis, said there weren’t enough votes to override the county executive’s veto of bill 49-18, which banned restaurants and other food service businesses from using containers made of polystyrene foam.

The bill was passed 4-3 on June 18. County Executive Steve Schuh vetoed the bill on June 25. A veto override requires a minimum 5-2 vote and has to be taken up at the next legislative day of the Council, according to the county charter. Trumbauer needed to flip one vote but couldn’t do it by Monday.

“It is a shame the county executive vetoed it,” Trumbauer said. “At the end of the day he sided with the industry instead of the grassroots (support).”

Three Republicans voted against the ban — Councilman Derek Fink, R-Pasadena; Michael Peroutka, R-Millersville and Jerry Walker, R-Crofton. Fink is the chief operating officer of restaurant management group Mid-States Management. He disclosed that relationship before voting.

This is the fourth veto of Schuh’s term. The county executive — who has business interests with restaurants — detailed his opposition in a letter released June 26. The council approved the purchase of a densifier that could increase the recycling capacity of polystyrene containers. The scope and availability of that recycling has not been revealed.

“By no measure — human health risks, FDA approval status, environmental impact, recycling potential, landfill impact, and cost to the community — does the proposed ban on foam food containers warrant the exercise of the coercive power of government as contemplated by bill 49-18,” Schuh wrote in the letter.

Styrene is considered “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen,” according to a 2011 report by the National Toxicology Program. Trace amounts of it seep into food from polystyrene containers but not enough that it is considered dangerous to users. Low amounts of styrene is found naturally in some food.

Supporters of the ban argued the polystyrene containers were difficult to recycle and harmful to the environment. They say containers break down into little pieces and can be consumed by wildlife or become pollutants in streams. Supporters included some restaurant owners, county residents, environmentalists and a preschooler. More people testified in favor of the ban than against.

Opponents of the ban said polystyrene was still considered safe enough for use and is a cheap tool for smaller businesses. They also argued that the county had a way to recycle the containers at a site in Crofton. Opponents included the Anne Arundel County Public Schools system, plastic industry lobbyists and the Restaurant Association of Maryland. They argued switching to different containers would be expensive, especially for the school system, which serves more than 5 million trays of food a year.

County Councilman Jerry Walker, R-Crofton, has worked with Democrats on other issues but voted against the bill. There were attempts to change every Republican vote, but Trumbauer said he was most hopeful Walker would change his mind.

But Walker — whose Maryland state delegate campaign ended at the primary election — wouldn’t change his mind, saying he was a “man of his word.”

The market is already trending toward using different types of containers, so there isn’t a reason for government to step in, Walker said.

“I try not to let inside baseball affect policy outcomes,” Walker said, referencing his sometimes contentious relationship with the county executive. “There is a trend already being demonstrated that the markets are adjusting to consumer demand.”

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