photo of polystyrene food containers

County Approves Ban on Styrofoam Food Containers, Packing Peanuts

The Montgomery County Council today unanimously enacted a bill that will ban use and sale of certain expanded polystyrene food service products and the sale of certain polystyrene packing materials in the county, and will require the use of compostable or recyclable of polystyrene food containers

The bill, whose chief sponsor was Councilmember Hans Riemer and which was co-sponsored by Council President George Leventhal and Councilmember Marc Elrich, will prohibit the use and sale of polystyrene foam food service products and the sale of polystyrene loose fill packaging (packing peanuts) effective Jan. 1, 2016. The bill will also require the use of compostable or recyclable single-use disposable food service ware, such as plates, bowls, cups and eating utensils by the county government and its contractors effective Jan. 1, 2016, and for private businesses effective Jan. 1, 2017.

Among the items that the bill covers are containers, plates, cups, trays and egg cartons. Products packaged outside the County before receipt by the food service business, and materials used to package raw meat, seafood or poultry, are exempt from the prohibition.

The bill was approved by a vote of 8-0. Councilmember Nancy Navarro was absent from the meeting due to a death in her family.

“Many studies have shown that these foam products, especially those used for take out food, make up a substantial portion of the waste found in our waterways,” Riemer said. “It never biodegrades, but it breaks apart, making it especially difficult to clean up. Recyclable and compostable alternatives are readily available and competitively priced, so it is time to move on from using foam products.”

In 2012, the Council approved a resolution expressing support for the elimination of expanded polystyrene food service products in county government cafeterias and encouraging other public and private food service facilities to also consider the elimination of the use of polystyrene food service products.

“The bill we approved today is another great step forward in protecting our environment, especially our waterways,” Leventhal said. “In 2012, I sponsored the resolution banning the use of polystyrene food service products by County government, and I applaud the recent decision of Montgomery County Public Schools to stop using polystyrene lunch trays. Because MCPS was able to make this transition, I am confident that the private sector will be able to as well, and we are giving them almost two years to comply.”

“Although much of the waste we produce as a community can be recycled or reused, polystyrene foam cannot be,” Elrich said. “And unlike paper products, it does not biodegrade. Once broken into smaller pieces, it makes its way into our streams and oceans, where it is ingested by fish, seabirds and other animals, eventually moving up the food chain. The EPA says that 100 percent of Americans have styrene—a known carcinogen—in their bodies. Now, Montgomery County joins the cities of New York, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. in banning this material—for our environment and our health.”

A link to the full text of the bill is available at the County Council’s website at:

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