More than a year before a recently signed ban on Styrofoam food containers is set to take effect, the vendor that runs a free polystyrene recycling program at the Sisson Street dump will stop offering the service in May, the Department of Public Works announced.
Officials and advocates said this will affect Baltimore residents’ ability to recycle other polystyrene items, such as packaging for electronic products and other goods. Jeffrey Raymond, chief of communications and community affairs for DPW, wrote by email that the “vast majority of foam brought in is from shipping and packing blocks.”
DPW said the vendor, Dart Container Corporation, announced the move in relation to the ban on food containers. Dart will end the program on May 21, even though the ban on styrofoam food containers won’t take effect for another 18 months.
As it happens, Dart makes the Styrofoam food containers subject to the ban. Michael Westerfield, director of corporate recycling for the container company, said Dart told the city it would end the program when it first started entertaining a ban.
“If they’re going to restrict the use of our products, we’re going to focus on other areas,” he said, adding that plenty of other local governments have expressed interest in the free program.
In a statement, DPW director Rudolph S. Chow expressed his disappointment with Dart’s decision but said the city would be better off in the long run with the ban.
“I’m disappointed that Dart has chosen to end its service, but we are better off reducing the volume of material that enters the waste stream, and the resources needed to produce it, in the first place,” he said.
Environmental advocates from Blue Water Baltimore and Trash Free Maryland expressed similar sentiments.
“It remains critical that we work to reduce this type of material entering our waste stream altogether, and we are appreciative of Baltimore City leadership recognizing this as an effective measure to protect our people, wildlife, and waterways,” wrote Ashley Van Stone, executive director of Trash Free Maryland, in an email.
In a statement, Mayor Catherine Pugh emphasized her support for the ban.
“The ban on foam foodservice containers will go a long way toward making Baltimore a cleaner, greener place to live,” she said. “By cutting out foam food containers we’ll make a major dent in the amount of that material on our streets, in our streams, and in our landfill.”
According to DPW, Baltimoreans have brought about four tons of Styrofoam a year to the facility since the program began in 2011, a relatively small amount compared to the glass, paper, metal and plastic that gets recycled.
Soiled food containers were also accepted at Sisson Street, Westerfield said. Typically, the containers are washed, ground down and turned into little pellets used to make new products. He likened the basic components of the recycling process to those used for plastics, such as an everyday water bottle.
“We had partnered with the city since 2011 on this program,” he said. “It was a success as far as we’re concerned.”
Angela Haren, director of advocacy and Baltimore Water Harborkeeper for Blue Water Baltimore, challenged the effectiveness of that aspect of the program.
“Our staff tried several times to recycle food containers at the Sisson Street facility (our office is just down the block) and once we were told that they had to be washed and dried and free of all food scraps before they would accept them,” she wrote in an email. “On another occasion we were told they don’t recycle them and just put them in the trash.”
Opponents of Styrofoam have pointed to the chemicals used to make the stuff and the material’s inability to biodegrade as reasons to support bans on the product.
The vendor that handles residential recycling, Waste Management, does not accept polystyrene, and other providers would likely charge the city to collect it, DPW said.
The department said once the program ends, residents should bag their polystyrene and put it out with the trash.
That last step is important, Van Stone wrote, “to ensure components that break off do not blow or wash away and end up in our environment.”
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