Photo via Blue Water Baltimore
Photo via Blue Water Baltimore

Foam cups and food containers may be about to get a lot more expensive:  if the City Council goes forward with a proposed ban on polystyrene foam products within the city limits, selling someone a drink in a foam cup might land you a $1,000 fine.

There’s already enough trash in Baltimore, and foam food containers are particularly pernicious, argue the bill’s supporters. They don’t biodegrade, they make up a large part of the city’s unsightly litter problem, and they float instead of sinking — hence all the bobbing white cups you see in the Harbor waters.

Opponents of the bill point out that what really needs to change are our habits. “It’s a people problem,” City Council president Bernard (Jack) Young told the council, according to the Baltimore Sun. “Until we change the habits of people, what are we going to ban next?”

One possible point of comparison is San Francisco’s ban on plastic grocery bags, which went into effect in 2012; other cities, including Seattle and Austin, soon followed suit. (Several of these cities have also banned foam containers.) “It didn’t take people very long to accommodate at all,” Dick Lilly, Seattle’s waste prevention manager told the New York Times. The Times article points out that, at least when it comes to plastic bags, the old “carrot or stick” question has a clear answer:  carrots (that is, positive incentives) are less effective at changing behavior than sticks (fines, fees, taxes, and outright bans). The bill heads to the full council on Monday for a vote.

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