By: Elizabeth Shwe
June 12, 2020
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The deadline for Maryland schools and restaurants to stop using polystyrene foam food containers and cups has been extended from July 1 to Oct. 1, the Maryland Department of the Environment decreed in an order this week. Polystyrene foam is commonly known under a trademark name, Styrofoam.
A week after declaring a state of emergency in March due to the outbreak of COVID-19, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) issued an order called “Extending Certain Licenses, Permits, Registrations, and Other Governmental Authorizations, and Authorizing Suspension of Legal Time Requirements.” In response, the Maryland Department of the Environment announced this month that it was necessary to extend the deadline on the foam ban.
Schools, restaurants, faith institutions and nonprofits can now use their backstock of styrofoam until Oct 1 to alleviate the harm caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency said. The ban on the sale of foam is still July 1.
“The extension of the deadline for schools and food services businesses to discontinue their use of expanded polystyrene products is very limited and is to allow the use of existing supplies of these products for an additional time while maintaining the effective date of the ban on their sale,” said Jay Apperson, a spokesman at MDE. “This does not affect or alter the effective date of any county or municipal law limiting the use of EPS (expanded polystyrene) products.”
In April 2019, the legislature passed a bill that banned foam products, making Maryland the first state in the country to go foam-free. Del. Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore City) and Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery) sponsored the foam ban bill together. It took Lierman and Kagan three attempts to pass the bill — and one of the concessions made to skeptics was to put off implementation of the legislation until this year.
Once the bill went into effect, schools and restaurants had 18 months to go through any styrofoam they had left in stock and prepare for the July 1 deadline.
“They got a lot of advanced notice,” Kagan said Friday.
Fifty-two percent of Maryland’s residents were already living under a styrofoam ban, since Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City had enacted a foam ban prior to the passage of the statewide bill, according to Kagan.
The bill also included a waiver, which allows entities to apply to ask for an exemption from the law if they were experiencing hardship for up to one year.
Kagan said she was not aware of any waiver applications over the last year and a half in the jurisdictions that have already adopted a Styrofoam ban. But if anyone was experiencing hardship because of the pandemic and wanted an exemption, Kagan said that applying for the waiver would have been the right path.
Instead, the state has decreed a blanket three-month extension to the implementation of the law, which Kagan thinks is “irresponsible and unnecessary.”
Kagan said she was surprised that a Styrofoam ban suddenly became a public health emergency three months after the governor had declared a state of emergency.
“This came out of nowhere. We had no advance notice,” she said. “Somehow this was the solution to a question that no one was asking.”