Just as most Americans like to try to kick off a new year right with resolutions (check it out, my “I'm going to blog so much more!” plan is working already!), plenty of American cities also like to kick things off right by having new laws and regulations kick in on the first of the year.
In Washington, the city council wanted to get 2016 off to a clean start by starting the ban on expanded polystyrene take out containers Jan. 1.
For months, D.C. Department of Energy & Environment employees have been pounding the pavement and handing out “Foam Free D.C.” stickers to bars and restaurants all over town. But other than the local hype (aka, complaining), D.C. didn't see nearly as much fanfare (aka, legal action) around its foam ban, perhaps because Washington didn't draw the plastics industry's ire by saying EPS isn't recyclable or turning down more than $23 million in recycling equipment, training and incentives.
In the waning days of 2015, every local news station had the requisite story on the impending ban. But it wasn't until I started looking at the fliers as a professional plastics person instead of just another D.C. denizen doomed to soggy-bottomed cardboard containers for my favorite Thai takeout that I realized there is one pretty bizarre and little-mentioned quirk to our foam ban. And we can't even blame it on Congress.
Like the average ban on polystyrene making the municipal rounds these days, the D.C. ban covers any food container designed for a single use, including clamshells, cups, trays — the usual suspects. It exempts packaging for raw meat, fish, poultry, or seafood as well as anything packaged before it gets to town, like eggs. Also exempt are home-use products, so EPS picnic plates are safe.
But while the obvious foam users are included in the ban — sorry, food trucks, restaurants and carryouts (it figures as soon as we get a Chick-fil-a in the District, we make corporate regret it when they have to switch to paper cups) — there's an unexpected clause that goes beyond the usual suspects: the ban includes any company or group providing free coffee to clients, non-profits hosting a breakfast or churches offering coffee after a service.
That's a new one, even for me. And believe me, I've seen a lot of ban legislation.
There is also a hotline (Oh come on, I'm not going to post the number here!) to rat out businesses or, I guess, church mixers, AA meetings and kids' lemonade stands. Fines start at $100 for the first infraction with the amount doubling up to $800 with each subsequent failed inspection.
I guess that's not so steep; maybe an extra time around with the collection basket would cover it?