Environmentalists must rejoice! Maine recently became the first state to ban the use of Styrofoam containers for food and beverages. Signed by Democratic Governor Janet Mills in the beginning of May, the Styrofoam ban will take effect as of January 1st, 2021.
The law will prohibit restaurants, coffee shops, caterers, and grocery stores from using Styrofoam to-go containers (i.e. bowls, plates, cups, trays, or cartons). The reason for this is because Styrofoam cannot be recycled and Styrofoam containers are some of the most frequently littered items in the United States, with Maine using about 256 million Styrofoam items every year.
What Is Polystyrene Foam?
Polystyrene foam is the technical term for name-brand product known as Styrofoam, and it is a petroleum-based plastic. Instead of biodegrading, polystyrene foam continues to break down into smaller and smaller pieces that inevitably get consumed by wildlife. Due to its lightweight nature, polystyrene foam is easily blown by the wind to end up in waterways, where it contaminates the water source and the marine animals that ingest it. Additionally, polystyrene foam easily absorbs toxins, and tiny pieces of this harmful plastic can make its way into the food we eat. Research suggests that about nearly every human being on the planet have consumed microplastics at some point in life. Over the average human’s lifetime, consuming microplastics can introduce toxins into the body that disrupt the endocrine system, and this can cause an assortment of health issues.
The plastics industry was very opposed to the Styrofoam ban, and so were several Maine businesses that benefit from how economical polystyrene foam is. Maine is not taking this environmentally friendly step alone, though. Companies like McDonald’s and Dunkin’ have pledged to ban the use of Styrofoam, and other states have stopped using of single-use plastic bags. Other cities around the country have even banned plastic straws. The plastics industry itself has committed to invest $1.5 billion over a five-year period to end plastic waste. Several studies, including a 2011 study in Honolulu, Hawaii, have found that people would be willing to pay more for their meals if it meant that they were eating out of eco-friendly to-go containers.
While we can only hope that a federal ban on Styrofoam will happen, it isn’t likely to be approved any time soon. Hopefully, more and more states begin to halt the use of plastics and begin utilizing the many other options that are available. It is efforts like this Styrofoam ban, though, that encourage other politicians to put more environmentally friendly laws into place.