Alternative materials not in great supply as manufacturers reopen

(June 26, 2020) The statewide ban on the sale or distribution of polystyrene, or Styrofoam, has been postponed from July 1 to Oct. 1, or 30 days after Gov. Larry Hogan lifts the state of emergency, according to a notice from the Maryland Department of the Environment.

The ban was postponed as the state continues its efforts to open the economy after closing most businesses this spring because of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The Maryland General Assembly passed the legislation on April 3, 2019, making it the first state in the nation to do so. 

According to the notice, food service businesses and schools may continue using Styrofoam until Oct. 1, but may not purchase Styrofoam products after July 1. 

Sandi Smith, of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, said the postponement is disappointing. She also expressed frustration that the manufacturers of environmentally friendly products can’t keep up with the new demand. 

“That’s because of the covid-19,” Smith said. “What happened was all our restaurants had to focus on carryout and so people are going to restaurants and they’re doing all carryout. There’s just not enough supply of environmentally friendly products for them to purchase.” 

In response, Maryland Coastal Bays Program will hand out canvas bags to restaurants that are source reduction pledgees.  

“We’re going to provide those to our pledgees to encourage them to give those to repeat customers [for carryout] so they’re not using plastic bags,” Smith said. 

The program will also put out a press release regarding the ban postponement. 

“Hopefully, we’re helping make a little bit of a dent and a difference,” Smith said. “We’re also going to be putting out PSAs [public service announcements] encouraging our visitors, now that Fourth of July weekend is coming up, to encourage our visitors to be more responsible due to the lack of availability of environmentally friendly products.” 

Smith has previously said that the danger of Styrofoam is that it never goes away and animals can end up consuming it. 

The Ocean City Council’s Green Team and the Maryland Coastal Bays Program have been working for months to educate the public, and especially restaurants, on alternative options, such as biodegradable cardboard carryout boxes. 

Smith said she commends the local restaurants that have been trying to find more environmentally friendly products. 

“They’re worked really hard on doing the right thing, and now we’ve had this setback, especially in a resort town, with the bay on one side and the ocean on the other,” Smith said.

Elizabeth covers Worcester County issues for Ocean City Today. In 2018, she graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa with a bachelor of arts. After graduation, Elizabeth spent a year with Lutheran Volunteer Corps in Wilmington, Delaware.

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