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Baltimore mayor signs bill banning plastic foam containers

BALTIMORE — Baltimore businesses have 18 months to stop using carryout containers made from polystyrene foam.

After that window, businesses will face $1,000 fines for violations. The bill signed Thursday by Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh also prohibits restaurants and other food vendors from using cups, plates, dishes, bowls and trays or any similar items made from this material.

Cia Carter owns Miss Carter’s Kitchen, a soul food restaurant in Baltimore that uses foam containers for takeout. Carter supports the new law even though she’ll have to switch to a different kind of container.

“It’ll just be friendlier to the environment. I think it’s a positive thing,” she said.

The City Council unanimously passed the measure last month after Councilman John Bullock introduced it. Versions that previously failed had offered businesses just three months to phase out the containers.

Some local restaurants and Baltimore leaders have already been taking measures to cut back on the material.

Sandy Lawler, the Baltimore farmers market and food and beverage manager at the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, said that for the past three years, vendors’ contracts have prohibited them from using polystyrene foam.

“It may be a few pennies out of each of your sales, but the long-term (benefit) is the health of the bay, and the health of your neighbors,” she said. “It gets picked up easily by the wind, it lands in the bay, and it just doesn’t break down.”

The American Chemistry Council expressed disappointment about the new law, saying it would raise costs and wouldn’t improve the quality of life in the city.

“Baltimore would be well served with a renewed focus on recycling and composting initiatives and litter control,” Mike Levy, senior director of the council’s Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group, said in a statement.

The Maryland Restaurant Association also spoke out against the law. “The polystyrene foam ban will significantly increase the cost of disposable foodservice products without any measurable environmental benefit,” the association said in a statement.

Cities including San Francisco, Washington and Portland, Oregon, also have banned businesses from using foam food containers. In Maryland, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County began prohibiting businesses from using these containers in 2016. A bill that would have enacted a statewide ban failed to make it through the General Assembly this year.