Pushed by student activists, Baltimore City Council President and others voice their support for banning polystyrene foam food containers in the city
YOUNG BOY: I want to ban styrofoam for the environment and for us.
DHARNA NOOR: As Baltimore’s under heated and underfunded public schools are capturing headlines, a group of city students are leading a fight for a new law to curb pollution, a ban on styrofoam food containers.
NICHOLAS KOPHENGNAVONG: We’re going to work so hard together to get polystyrene out of Baltimore.
DHARNA NOOR: Just ahead of the city council hearing to consider the bill, student group, Baltimore Beyond Plastic, held a rally to demand action.
JENN AISOSA: We’ve worked on the issue of phasing out expanded polystyrene for a couple of years and we’ve been working with the students who have really been rallying behind this cause.
JAILEN REDFERN: We are trying to ban styrofoam because it will cause chemicals in your food and it’s also like if you put it inside the river or anything, it could pollute it. It could kill fishes or any important living creatures.
DHARNA NOOR: This all comes just after Baltimore City Public Schools made the switch from styrofoam to compostable lunch trays. At the hearing, City Council President, Jack Young, said he, too, was supporting the bill.
JACK YOUNG: It was some kids that really, really got to me in a very good way.
DHARNA NOOR: And many kids testified at the hearing.
SPEAKER: Styrofoam products can be replaced, but our environment and our world can’t.
SPEAKER: Students across the city have consistently shown that we want, no demand, to see this bill passed.
DHARNA NOOR: The bill’s chief sponsor, Councilman John Bullock, said he’s optimistic that the bill will pass.
JOHN BULLOCK: There were seven co-sponsors for it. I’ve talked to some of the members of the committee, the Council president, as well, and so I do believe that we’re going to get this passed.
DHARNA NOOR: Bullock and others say styrofoam has negative health and environmental impacts.
JOHN BULLOCK: We look at the fact that it’s not biodegradable so it just sits in landfills forever.
DHARNA NOOR: But at the hearing, some package industry and retail representatives questioned the bill’s efficacy.
CAILEY LOCKLAIR TOLLE: We agree with protecting Marylanders from potentially harmful products. But there simply are not facts to support the proponents’ arguments that polystyrene is harmful.
SPEAKER: Bans on products, including foam, don’t solve the litter problem.
DHARNA NOOR: Some business owners oppose the bill and expressed concerns about the costs it would impose.
PHIL QUICK: Just for me to use a paper cup or a plastic cup will cost about $5,000 more a year and we can’t absorb that cost.
DHARNA NOOR: But other business owners and food representatives showed their support.
SPEAKER: We have 115 signatures of businesses who support this ban.
SPEAKER: We have 77 restaurants who are in the city of Baltimore who have sent support letters.
SPEAKER: We’re writing or speaking in support of this bill, phasing out the expanded use of polystyrene.
DHARNA NOOR: And though Baltimore does have a program to recycle styrofoam take out containers…
PAUL POE: Foam is recyclable. We’ve done it in Baltimore City at the Sisson street plant with DPW for years.
DHARNA NOOR: It’s not a part of the regular recycling stream.
MERCEDES THOMPSON: It’s downgraded and actually causes…to lose money by recycling them, because they have to pack them up and ship them up to Pennsylvania, I believe, and shred them down and they become picture frames. So, you can’t really use them for food anymore and after that, you just have throw them away.
DHARNA NOOR: Instead, the foam often ends up in incinerators.
SPEAKER: You talk about incineration. Nothing burns better or faster or hotter than polystyrene.
MERCEDES THOMPSON: Over 57 known volatile chemicals are released into the air when styrofoam is incinerated, which makes it a critical public health concern because we breathe that air in. As students, our lungs are developing, so it’s particularly harmful to us.
DHARNA NOOR: The bill would pose a $1,000 fine on any food service facilities that don’t comply.
SPEAKER: We’re not interested in fining local businesses. We’re really interested in making the change. Unfortunately, sometimes legislation needs to include fines to promote the behavior that we really want to see.
DHARNA NOOR: Some asked that the ban be expanded to better serve the city’s most vulnerable populations.
JESSICA WYNTER MARTIN: If it’s possible to clarify that social service organizations, child care centers, nursing facilities, hospitals, detention facilities and schools are not exempt.
DHARNA NOOR: The Council Committee didn’t hold a vote at the hearing. Instead, Committee Chair, Councilman Eric Costello, announced a follow-up meeting next week to hear amendment proposals.
For The Real News with Taylor Hebden, Dharna Noor, Baltimore.