By Katie Keogh
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
The Baltimore City Council unanimously approved a resolution Monday that calls on the General Assembly to approve and the governor to sign a bill that would ban the use of polystyrene food containers in the state.
The mostly symbolic vote throws the council’s support behind House Bill 229, which is under consideration in Annapolis and would prohibit food services businesses such as restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, supermarkets, movie theaters and others from selling or using foam containers in Maryland.
If approved, the ban would go into effect in January 2018 and make Maryland the first state to ban foam food containers. Prince George’s and Montgomery counties already prohibit polystyrene in their jurisdictions.
The council said it supports the House bill because studies show that polystyrene can hurt the human nervous system. Studies show that polystyrene can cause fatigue, feelings of intoxication, slow reaction times, concentration problems, and problems with balance. It has also been linked to hearing loss, liver damage and sperm damage in animals, the council said.
In passing the resolution, council members credited Baltimore Beyond Plastic, a youth-led organization striving to bring awareness to the many health issues that polystyrene has on the human body.
The group’s co-founders, Mercedes Thompson and Claire Wayner, attended the council meeting Monday evening for the vote. The two students of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute said they were passionate about stopping the use of hazardous chemicals in Maryland.
Council member Zeke Cohen, D-1st District, said Thompson and Wayner were instrumental in why he proposed the resolution.
“They came by my office and to be honest with you I was a Baltimore city teacher and I didn’t even realize that kids were eating off of Styrofoam trays,” Cohen said. “But when these two young women came and told me about how it leaches into food and how it can cause cancer and all of these different deleterious health effects, I was really compelled about it. These women really made me want to get involved.”
As many counties across America have taken action to end the production and sale of polystyrene, Baltimore Beyond Plastic has a dream of ultimately banning the carcinogen on a federal level.
“We felt like it was a great opportunity to get involved and we want to be the first state to ban it,” Wayner said. “Hopefully it will lead to bigger things in the future.”
Cohen said a ban on foam containers would not put an economic burden on state businesses.
“It’s not super onerous on businesses and you can replace it and it is only a couple of cents more to get an alternative than to have Styrofoam,” Cohen said. “Like they [Wayner and Thomposon] will tell you, it doesn’t compost and it is such a toxic, bad substance and we really don’t need it anywhere near our kids and I’m really encouraged that our state has taken this up and I hope it passes. I want them to know Baltimore supports it.”
Baltimore Beyond Plastic will be holding a rally on Friday outside of Baltimore City Hall from 4 to 5:30 p.m. to continue to spread awareness of the issue and to fight for many more progressive steps in the future.
“The point is that we don’t want it just banned in Baltimore, we want it banned all over Maryland,” Cohen said.