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Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ December 2014

Say Good-Bye to Styrofoam:  It May Soon Be Banned

By Sondra Katz

Polystyrene — more commonly known as Styrofoam — is not biodegradable but is widely used for packaging.  It makes up a considerable amount of litter in the environment (including landfills).  Styrofoam is also a suspected carcinogen.  To give you a feel for the extent of the problem, Liz Dwyer of Takepart.com writes that, “According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States generated 32 million tons of plastic waste in 2012.  Almost 14 million tons came from plastic containers and packaging, and nearly seven million were nondurable goods like plates and cups.

How much of that is Styrofoam?  Well, the news is pretty dismal.  The EPA found that Americans chuck 25 billion (yes, billion) Styrofoam cups per year.  That’s not even counting the to-go container in which your half-eaten burrito gets inserted so you can take it home.  Because just nine percent of plastic waste is recycled, 500 years from now every Styrofoam cup handed out at a doughnut shop this morning will still be sitting in a landfill.”

MoCo Councilmember Hans Riemer cited a 2010 report by the Anacostia Watershed Society that found more than 20 percent of the trash collected in waterway traps were bits of polystyrene foam and are eaten by the aquatic wildlife, to their detriment.

Styrene, a main ingredient in making polystyrene foam, is listed as “a reasonable anticipated human carcinogen” in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Report on Carcinogens, 12th Edition (2011).  The primary risk is to workers improperly exposed to styrene in the manufacturing process, with the primary non-occupational exposure through cigarette smoke.  However, styrene may also leach into food from polystyrene containers used for food products.

The movement is growing to ban their use in food packaging such as meat and deli products, cups, and food trays.  Several local and state governments have already passed or are considering laws to ban their use.

On 10 November 2014, the Takoma Park City Council passed a ban to be effective on 1 July 2015.  The ban includes Styrofoam cups, to-go packaging, and other polystyrene eating ware in restaurants and retailers such as supermarkets.  The city banned using public money for polystyrene products then and disallowed their use at city festivals and by food trucks in 2013.  The movement to ban these products began in 2010 by members of the Young Activist Club, made up of students from Piney Branch Elementary School and local middle schools.  To view the proceedings, go to https://citycouncil-takomapark.s3.amazonaws.com/agenda/items/2014/111014-2.pdf.

Montgomery County Government has a Styrofoam ban in place in its cafeterias, and Montgomery County schools are phasing out their use of foam food service trays.  On 9 September 2014, County Councilmember Hans Riemer (with George Leventhal and Marc Elrich as co-sponsors) introduced a bill banning the use of Styrofoam containers in restaurants, supermarkets, and institutional cafeterias in the county, as well as banning the sale of the foam containers and cups and foam packing peanuts at stores in the county.  At the time of this article, the vote on the bill is pending and, if it becomes law, the ban would be enforced starting on 1 January 2016.  To read the Montgomery County bill go to http://montgomerycountymd.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=6&event_id=1687&meta_id=71269.

At the end of July 2014, Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray signed a law banning the use of Styrofoam in the District effective 1 January 2016.  The law will require restaurants, carry-outs, food trucks, and other entities that serve food to use compostable or recyclable food service products, but excludes meat trays in grocery stores.

Washington and Carroll counties have set up recycle bins at their landfills to allow private contractors to recycle some types of polystyrene.    ■


   © 2014 NFCCA  [Source: https://nfcca.org/news/nn201412b.html]