UPDATE: April 20, 2018: Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh signed into law the city's polystyrene foam ban Thursday afternoon. The bill had been approved unanimously by the City Council.
"That says a whole lot about how we feel about the environment, and what we can do as better stewards of that environment," Councilman John Bullock, the bill's sponsor said. "Yes there are things we have to do in terms of our behavior, we have to make sure that we are recycling, that we are using trash cans, but again, from a policy level, we are being leaders here in Baltimore."
Mayor Pugh just signed the polystyrene foam ban. I'm going on a wonderful diet! Everyone celebrate with a GIF dance party!! pic.twitter.com/m8hOcZJKD6— Mr. Trash Wheel (@MrTrashWheel) April 19, 2018
- In a preliminary move, a Baltimore City Council committee voted unanimously Monday night to prohibit businesses from using expanded polystyrene foam for to-go food and drink service purposes, as reported by The Baltimore Sun.
- As written, violation of the ordinance imposes a $1,000 fine and up to 12 months imprisonment. The bill currently comes with a 90-day transition period, but the council agreed to amending that to an 18-month transition period. It does not come with exemptions for certain kinds of businesses.
- While largely a formality, the bill requires a full vote in March. Mayor Catherine Pugh has pledged to sign the bill after the council votes on it again.
Baltimore lawmakers have been making attempts to ban polystyrene foam since at least 2013, when similar legislation was first introduced. However, the bills failed each time as members of the city council withdrew their support.
This time around, despite some pushback from the restaurant industry, Councilman John Bullock, the bill's sponsor, was able to gain support from the other lawmakers in Baltimore’s council, including President Bernard C. "Jack" Young.
Other local governments in the region, including Montgomery County and Washington, D.C., have already banned polystyrene foam. Supporters typically site environmental concerns, like litter, and health concerns with styrene, a component of polystyrene foam.
Polystyrene foam can be difficult to recycle, and does not degrade easily in landfills or in the environment. Polystyrene foam in municipal recycling streams can act as a contaminant at MRFs because of that difficulty. Dart Container maintains a map of where polystyrene foam can be collected or dropped for recycling.
Food containers made of the foam can typically be replaced with plastic clamshell packaging or compostable containers, though restaurateurs usually cite a higher cost as a reason for not switching. These concerns have caused bans to backfire before. In New York City, for example, a judge overturned a polystyrene foam ban in 2015, saying that it would not benefit the city, leading to ongoing legal back-and-forth over a ban.