MACO educates on new bill regulations, explores future of fewer single-use plastics

(Aug. 23, 2019) Food service businesses and schools have less than a year to phase out Styrofoam products. At the Maryland Association of Counties conference last Friday, Senator Lori Charkoudian, (D) of Montgomery County’s District 20, reminded everyone that food service businesses and schools cannot sell Styrofoam products after July 1, 2020.

She told the audience that single-use plastics are the largest contributor of pollution, that Styrofoam can take hundreds of years to breakdown, and releases toxins into the atmosphere when it is burned.

Sandi Smith, a representative with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, said the danger with Styrofoam is that it never goes away. 

“The animals wind up digesting it,” Smith said. “Animals consume plastic and we’re consuming the fish.”

Before the ban goes into full effect, the Maryland Department of Environment is required to conduct a public information campaign and continue as the ban begins. This will include mailing information packets to food service businesses and schools as well as direct contact and online efforts.

The Ocean City Council’s Green Team has already been assisting with those efforts by promoting and advertising restaurants that have already switched to alternative products. 

“What we’re trying to do is to educate and empower and embrace change,” Smith said. 

Much of the team’s efforts are geared toward behavior modification. Smith said even though Styrofoam is the less expensive packaging option, the goal is for businesses to choose the environmentally friendly option. 

“Hopefully, when this passes and people see an impact on it, it’ll change their behavior,” Smith said. “It’ll motivate people to start doing the right thing.”

Three Anchors is one such restaurant that has already moved away from Styrofoam products. According to General Manager Mark Stearns, the restaurant doesn’t use any Styrofoam products. It has biodegradable plastic straws, paper straws at the bar, biodegradable cardboard carryout boxes and glass serving products instead. 

“We’re trying to make sure the things we use are environmentally safe, friendly and biodegradable and aren’t about to sit in a landfill for a thousand years,” Stearns said.

Senator Cheryl Kagan, (D) who serves Montgomery County’s District 17 and is on the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee, said businesses can continue to go through their stock if they still have Styrofoam after the ban is in effect. She added that she hasn’t heard any complaints.

According to Kagan, the cost for alternative products is only “pennies more” and 52.4 percent of Maryland residents live in an area that has already banned Styrofoam products. 

“We’re not hearing a lot of concerns about doing the right thing for the environment,” Kagan said. 

This ban will not include use for raw meat, which has a higher safety concern than other food products. Smith hopes that the Green Team will find an alternative product for raw meat in the future. 

“It’s about getting the product out there and getting it to a price point that’s workable,” Smith said. 

Charkoudian closed the presentation by mentioning that a ban on plastic straws did not pass state legislation, but she is hopeful that a revised version will pass in the future, as well as other types of single-use plastics. 

“Just because we can’t get rid of them in one legislation session doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do what we can in one legislative session,” Charkoudian said. 

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