Maryland moves closer toward becoming first state to ban foam food containers

With approval from both chambers, the state legislature moved Tuesday toward making Maryland the first state in the country to ban polystyrene foam food containers and cups.

The House of Delegates voted 97-38 to approve the legislation sponsored by Del. Brooke Lierman, a Baltimore Democrat.

It was Lierman’s third attempt to pass the bill.

“I’m thrilled to be a part of the effort to stand up for our waterways, stand up for our neighborhoods, stand up for the world our kids will inherit,” Lierman said on the House floor.

The House vote came a week after Maryland’s senators approved their own, slightly different, version of the legislation.

Lierman said the differences between the two versions of the legislation would be worked out in a conference committee.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has not taken a position yet on whether he would sign the bill, according to a spokeswoman.

“Under Governor Hogan’s leadership, Maryland has one of the strongest environmental records in the country,” the spokeswoman, Shareese DeLeaver-Churchill, said. “The governor is always willing to consider any piece of legislation that reaches his desk.”

The Senate vote of 34-13 came after days of off-and-on debate, with many Republicans raising concerns that the ban would cause difficulty or increased expenses for farmers, small businesses and nonprofit organizations.

Josh Young, a lobbyist for the American Chemistry Council, the industry’s trade group, testified against the bill at a recent hearing. He said alternatives to foam are more costly for businesses and won’t break down in landfills.

He called the ban a “harsh action” and said Maryland would be the “only state to ban an entire class of safe and effective products.”

“You are forcing establishments to switch to a more expensive product that will do nothing to clean up the environment and in fact increase litter and greenhouse gases,” Young argued.

Proponents of the ban, including sponsor Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat, say foam products are not recyclable and don’t break down in the environment, making them a particularly difficult form of litter to deal with.

To emphasize that point, the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore celebrated the House’s passage of the ban by announcing that Mr. Trash Wheel, the garbage and flotsam collector at the mouth of the Jones Falls in the Inner Harbor, has scooped more than 1 million bits of polystyrene since it was launched in 2014.

“Healthy Harbor views these milestones less as a celebration and more of a catalyst for change,” Adam Lindquist, director of the partnership’s Healthy Harbor Initiative, said in a statement. “By collecting and sharing the trash wheel data, we are bringing Baltimore’s trash issue to the forefront, helping to shift behaviors and push for policy change.”

The legislation contains some exceptions. For example, foam products packaged outside Maryland — such as cups containing ramen noodles — could still be sold. Also exempted are foam products used to package raw or butchered meat and foam products not used for food service.

The ban would take effect July 1, 2020. County officials would be in charge of enforcing the ban, and could issue $250 fines.

The measure is among the priorities of Democratic leaders of the General Assembly.

Several local governments in Maryland, including Prince George’s and Montgomery counties and most recently Anne Arundel County, have already banned foam products.

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