Maryland businesses and schools are getting a little more time to make the switch away from foam food containers due to pandemic-related setbacks.
The nation’s first statewide ban on foam food containers passed in the Maryland legislature last year and was set to go into effect July 1, 2020. The disposable foam frequently winds up in the Bay and is particularly dangerous to wildlife.
Now, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is offering a “very limited, 90-day extension to help small businesses and schools that weren’t able to use up their existing inventories because of COVID-19.”
The new law bans the use of food service containers, egg cartons, trays, and plates composed of expanded polystyrene commonly referred to under the trademark name of Styrofoam. Restaurants, grocery stores, schools, and other food-service businesses with foam containers still left in their inventory were supposed to use them up by July 1, but many of those schools and restaurants were closed or had greatly-reduced traffic.
In a statement, Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles explains, “We’re not altering the effective dates of any county or municipal laws on the sale or use of these styrofoam products. This is solely about finding a modest accommodation for those in need in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, while upholding an important new environmental law that could become a model for many other states.”
The nonprofit group Trash Free Maryland says polystyrene is a major pollution risk because its tiny beads absorb chemicals from the water, and are in turn eaten by marine life. Large local governments in Maryland have already passed foam container bans recently, including Baltimore City.
In a public notice, MDE says existing inventories of foam food service products may be used until October 1, 2020, but businesses and schools may not buy additional foam products after July 1. Additionally, no person or business may sell foam food service products in the state of Maryland.
Once the ban is in effect, MDE says the counties will have the authority to enforce it will fines for noncompliance. For more information about the new law, see MDE’s Frequently Asked Questions and to read about alternatives to foam products, refer to Montgomery County’s List of Recyclable and Compostable Alternatives for Expanded Polystyrene Food Service Ware.
MDE says a food service business or school can apply for a waiver from MDE for a period up to one year “if the department determines that achieving compliance would present an undue hardship or a practical difficulty not generally applicable to other food service businesses or schools in similar circumstances.” Waiver requests should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Meg Walburn Viviano