Photo by Janine, via Flickr

Lawmakers in Annapolis today voted to make Maryland the first state in the country to ban foam food packaging that, in all of its convenience for takeout orders, has also degraded the environment for decades.

The Maryland House of Delegates approved Baltimore Del. Brooke Lierman’s bill in a 97-38 vote, exactly a week after the Maryland Senate approved a twin proposal in a 34-13 floor vote. The bills would ban retail sales of polystyrene packaging, and prohibit any restaurants, grocery stores and other food businesses from giving it out starting July 1, 2020.

The bill now heads to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk, and he could either sign it or let the bill become law without his signature. Both houses have veto-proof majorities.

Hogan’s office was noncommittal in a statement sent by spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver-Churchill: “Under Governor Hogan’s leadership, Maryland has one of the strongest environmental records in the country. The governor is always willing to consider any piece of legislation that reaches his desk.”

Legislative analysts and others have pointed out that more than half of Maryland—including Baltimore City, Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and other municipalities—has already banned or moved to ban the packaging, which can be mistaken for food by animals and make its way up the food chain to us humans, leaches carcinogenic compounds and is difficult to recycle (and often ends up tossed into the streets, anyway).

Restaurant owners and associated interests lobbied unsuccessfully against the legislation this past session, arguing that requirements to use alternative packaging materials would threaten profit margins, and that the real problem is the shortage of facilities where foam can be recycled.

A policy and fiscal note on the bill said the impact on small businesses would be “minimal overall,” but pointed out that banning it would raise costs for the school systems that use foam trays in their cafeterias and would negatively affect manufacturers of foam packaging.

This was the third straight year that lawmakers—Lierman and Sen. Cheryl Kagan, specifically—had introduced the proposal.

The Waterfront Partnership’s Healthy Harbor Initative celebrated the bills’ passage today by announcing Mr. Trash Wheel, Professor Trash Wheel and Captain Trash Wheel recently gobbled up their collective millionth piece of foam container packaging since 2014.

Healthy Harbor, which operates Mr. and Professor Trash Wheel–the Maryland Port Administration handles the captain at Masonville Cove–said the trio has removed 1,002,134 foam containers from Baltimore’s harbor as of January. Hats off to them for keeping track, and to trash wheel inventor Clearwater Mills for logging the data.

This story has been updated.

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Ethan McLeod

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...