Ignoring objections raised by business groups, conservative politicians, and consumers, Maine became the first state in the country to ban Styrofoam, also known as polystyrene.
The bill, signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills on April 30, prohibits businesses including convenience stores, grocery stores, and restaurants from selling or distributing Styrofoam products. The law, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2020, exempts hospitals, seafood shippers, and state-funded meals-on-wheels programs from the ban.
Although polystyrene is recyclable, there is currently no place in Maine that recycles it, resulting in polystyrene winding up in landfills or as litter. Maine had already banned polystyrene food containers at state facilities and functions since 1993. Some communities in the state had also already banned Styrofoam.
Alternatives Are Less Effective
Consumers and business groups alike complained banning polystyrene limits peoples’ choices of containers, forcing them to use containers which don’t insulate the products contained within them from heat or cold as well. In the case of food products, this could result spoilage, possibly resulting in illnesses or food waste. In addition, alternative containers often require more energy and resources to produce.
“Maine State Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Ben Gilman said the bill would raise costs for small businesses, in particular, while sending a ‘chilling message’ to companies in the state that manufacture food service containers,” according to a news story filed by the Associated Press on May 1.
“These types of issues are better dealt with on a regional or national basis due to [the] unbalanced cost impact it will have on Maine businesses,” wrote Gilman in written testimony provided to lawmakers at a hearing discussing the bill.
In written testimony, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) pointed out every type of packaging impacts the environment in some way, and argued the ban was unnecessary because it had joined with other groups in January to form a new nonprofit, The Alliance to End Plastic Waste, committed to spending $1.5 billion over the next five years to reduce plastic waste, in part by improving recycling rates for plastic and polystyrene.
“All packaging leaves an environmental footprint regardless of the material type,” said Margaret Gorman, ACC’s senior director for the Northeast Region, in testimony provided to Maine lawmakers.
“It is our sincere hope that Gov. Mills and the Maine Legislature will reconsider this legislation next year after they see how it will negatively impact the environment and local businesses and consumers,” Omar Terrie, director of ACC’s plastics division, told the Associated Press after Mills signed the Styrofoam ban into law.
Plastic Laws in Other Jurisdictions
While no state had previously banned polystyrene before, other states and localities have considered or imposed bans on various types of single use plastic products. New York and California, for example, have banned single-use plastic bags.
In March, California legislators proposed prohibiting hotels from providing customers with single-use plastic shampoo and soap bottles in an effort to curb plastic waste.
Maryland’s Legislature also passed a polystyrene ban in April, but it is unclear whether the state’s governor, Republican Larry Hogan, will ultimately sign it into law.
By contrast, other states, including Florida, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, have made it illegal for local municipalities to regulate the sale or distribution of single use plastic containers or bags.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute.