Maine has become the first state to ban expanded polystyrene food containers, after Gov. Janet Mills signed legislation April 30 that prohibits selling or distributing them in the state.
Mills said 14 cities and towns in the state have already passed local bans on disposable EPS food packaging, and she and other ban supporters argued Maine should restrict them because they're not economically viable to recycle, and they break down into microplastics that get into the food chain
"Polystyrene cannot be recycled like a lot of other products, so while that cup of coffee may be finished, the Styrofoam cup it was in is not," Mills said in a statement. "In fact, it will be around for decades to come and eventually it will break down into particles, polluting our environment, hurting our wildlife, and even detrimentally impacting our economy."
Maine's action comes a few weeks after Maryland's Legislature passed an EPS foam packaging ban in that state. It would have been the first, but it has yet to be signed by that state's governor, Larry Hogan.
Plastics industry officials argued to Maine government leaders that banning EPS food containers was based on the "false assumption" that the alternatives were environmentally better.
The American Chemistry Council's Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group said alternatives could increase solid waste, energy and water use and greenhouse gas emissions.
"We support efforts made by states and businesses to reduce the amount of waste that can litter our nation's beaches, streets, and water ways," said PFPG Director Omar Terrie. "Unfortunately, Maine's recently-passed legislation banning the use of polystyrene foam foodservice packaging will do little to actually help keep the state clean."
ACC said a study in New York City after EPS foodservice packaging was banned there showed restaurants nearly doubled what they spent on alternative packaging.
But supporters of the ban like the Natural Resources Council of Maine argued that EPS foam is already costing cities and towns tax dollars in cleanup costs because it's so difficult to recycle.
It said the ban is part of what Maine needs to do to reduce pollution from plastic.
"With the threats posed by plastic pollution becoming more apparent, costly, and even deadly to wildlife, we need to be doing everything possible to limit our use and better manage our single-use plastics — starting with eliminating the use of unnecessary forms like plastic foam," said Sarah Lakeman, director of the sustainable Maine program at NRCM.
Maine House member Stanley Zeigler, D-Montville, who sponsored the legislation, said the law would help the state's tourism industry by controlling litter and aid local seafood industries by keeping plastic out of food chains.
As well he said it would support Maine businesses making alternative packaging from more locally sourced materials like paper.
"Polystyrene is made of petrochemicals, which are not found in Maine but rather are imported," Zeigler said. "Presently wood products are being used as a substitute at just a few cents difference. If we vote to prohibit polystyrene, we would be aiding a nascent industry using a resource that Maine is struggling to support."
Noting Maryland's recently passed statewide ban, Zeigler predicted other states would follow Maine's lead.
"If we pass this bill, we would be the first of many states doing this," Zeigler told his colleagues in an April debate before the Legislature voted.
But other legislators questioned the environmental claims of the law's supporters.
State Rep. Richard Campbell, R-Orrington, said EPS containers can be recycled and questioned the environmental footprint of alternatives like paper cups, which he said are made with plastic linings and can have a bigger ecological impact in manufacturing.
He advocated that Maine pursue stronger recycling policies and establish a state task force to study plastics.
"We have a plastic problem but rather than banning them, why don't we talk about how to reuse them, talk about how to recycle them," Campbell said. "The root of the problem is our culture. We're a throwaway culture."
ACC also argued to Maine lawmakers that some alternatives being touted as compostable and more environmentally friendly would only degrade in an industrial composting facility where temperatures exceed 140° F. It said Maine does not have any such facilities.