Council to consider ban on foam cups, carryout containers

Fed up with foam cups floating in Baltimore's waterways, a City Council committee voted Tuesday to approve a ban on polystyrene foam products for carryout food and drink items within the city limits.

The measure, sponsored by Councilman James B. Kraft, would impose penalties on food service businesses for using products such as Styrofoam. It will now go to the full council Monday for a vote.

"No food service facility may use any disposable food service ware made from polystyrene for the purpose of allowing consumers to take away prepared foods or beverages from its premises," Kraft's bill states.

The measure also would ban city agencies from purchasing, acquiring or using polystyrene foam.

The bill is Kraft's latest effort to crack down on the foam cups, plates and takeout boxes littered throughout Baltimore.

Supporters of the legislation say the products are more harmful to the environment than biodegradable items such as paper cups. Violators would be fined up to $1,000.

But businesses are pushing back. Foam containers are cheaper than alternatives, they say, and can be recycled.

Mike Levy, a director at the American Chemistry Council, a trade association that represents many corporations, said bans do not produce the desired effect of cleaning up litter.

He said successful neighborhoods around the United States have dealt with litter "first and foremost on the education side."

Levy said foam products represent only a small portion of litter. He said a similar ban in San Francisco made no change in the amount of litter thrown on the ground.

"This is a product that's safe," he said. "But from a litter prospective, we'd ask you not ban a product, but let us be part of a solution."

Mike Martinez, a regional manager for Dart Container Corp., said foam products are recyclable. There is a recycling plant on Sisson Street in Baltimore that accepts foam products.

Martinez said the foam products draw a backlash because they float, and don't sink to the bottom of the harbor. He said the products are not poisonous or dangerous.

"There's never been a single, solitary case, any time, anywhere of anyone getting sick from a foam container," he said.

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said banning items wouldn't make people stop littering.

"It's a people problem," he said. "Until we change the habits of people, what are we going to ban next?"

But Councilman Robert W. Curran, who backs the ban, said he'd prefer litter to be biodegradable.

"Most of the Styrofoam that ends up in the harbor comes from food service places," he said. "What would replace the Styrofoam is more biodegradable or recyclable and would not be around forever."

A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake did not respond to a request for comment.

Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, Ore., and other communities, principally on the West Coast, have imposed full or partial bans on foam containers, according to advocates. New York, Philadelphia and Boston are considering bans.

Residents testified Tuesday that they're sick of seeing foam cups and containers proliferate.

Victor Corbin, of the Fells Prospect Community Association, said when it rains he watches "cup after cup after cup" wash down the areas by his house.

"A majority of the trash is Styrofoam cups," he said. "It's a people problem, but it's also a city problem. Where's the enforcement?"

The bill is one of two high-profile measures the council is considering to combat litter.

City Councilman Brandon M. Scott introduced legislation Monday to impose a 10-cent fee on every plastic and paper bag distributed by merchants in the city — a move praised by environmentalists as a litter deterrent but decried by some business owners, who say it would hurt them and their shoppers.

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