(March 15, 2019) Ocean City restaurants, like others across the state of Maryland, soon could officially be Styrofoam free.
That makes restaurant owner Ryan James smile as wide he did while posing for a photograph Feb. 6 in Annapolis after testifying before state government leaders in support of a bill that reportedly stands a signature from Gov. Larry Hogan away from becoming a law.
“I’m ecstatic,” said James, who has joined other local businesses at the forefront of a high-profile bill to ban Styrofoam statewide that has taken two major steps forward in the past two weeks.
According to published reports, Maryland’s state senators voted March 5 to ban foam containers and cups in an effort to fight pollution. The House of Delegates followed suit Tuesday by voting in favor of eliminating Styrofoam.
If Hogan signs the bill, the ban would take effect early next year, and would carry a $250 fine for violators after the one-year grace period expires. James, who owns Mother’s Cantina, Mother’s Taco Shop and Mother’s Catering Company in Ocean City, has been using environmentally safe products made of compressed sugar cane in his restaurants for the past year.
Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, estimates the majority of local businesses owners already have phased out foam containers and cups. Jones also pointed to compostable plastic cups currently used at Fish Tales.
“I think there’s a large amount of overwhelming support for this initiative,” James said.
Still, Jones is unsure if businesses owners against the bill will soon join those in favor of it, primarily because of the added cost to purchase biodegradable products and the potential loss in revenue. Jones said businesses could pass the added cost onto their customers.
“So many mandated and regulated changes are being put on businesses, that many politicians are making being a small business owner extremely difficult,” Jones said Wednesday. “There will be some operators who charge more carry-out to cover the cost of recyclable containers, as they are expensive. This bill will negatively affect large operators who have (a) high volume of Styrofoam containers, which will most likely be reflected in pricing increases to the consumer.”
However, James said, the difference in cost between using take-out containers made of compressed sugar cane and traditional Styrofoam in his restaurants has amounted to an additional six cents per customer. James conducted a study of take-out orders from June through December last year to reach that conclusion, which he shared with government leaders in Annapolis during his recent testimony.
“Anytime a front-of-the-house employee hit the to-go button, it would charge (customers) six cents,” James said. “We hit that button 22,552 times. It raised about $1,804 in additional revenue in those six months to compensate for the elevated cost, and we got zero complaints.”
Fish Tales owner Shawn Harman said his Ocean City businesses have been heavily involved in using environmentally safe products, such as biodegradable cups made of corn starch, for the past decade. Soon, eliminating the use of foam cups and containers will join the list.
“We’ll change immediately,” Harman said. “It’s a good thing. You just have to pass the cost on to your consumer because you’re taking a two-cent item or a five-cent item to 30 cents, and that’s going to pass on (to customers). I think the consumers embrace it entirely.”
James is confident more local businesses will support the bill to ban Styrofoam. “The minority of businesses that are not OK with it, we’ll get them educated,” he said. “We’ll get them comfortable with the switch, and I’m sure that they will be fine with everything once they get some more knowledge and are introduced to some more products. They’ll be good to go very shortly.”