AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine has banned single-use food and drink containers made from polystyrene foam, commonly known as Styrofoam.
Maine now becomes the first state to enact a prohibition, though dozens of communities across the country, including Berkeley and New York City, already have bans in place. Some date back to the late 1980s.
Law Takes Effect in 2021
Democratic Gov. Janet Mills signed the Maine bill into law Tuesday. It takes effect in 2021.
Environmental groups have sought such bans amid rising public awareness of throwaway plastic that accumulates in the oceans. Similar legislation passed Maryland’s Legislature in April, but it’s unclear whether that state’s Republican governor, Larry Hogan, will sign it.
“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, Sustainable Maine director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
Mills called it an “important step forward in protecting our environment.” The governor said it creates consistency for businesses while providing time to adjust.
Some Uses Exempt from Ban
The law will prohibit “covered establishments” — like restaurants and grocery stores — from using polystyrene containers. Hospitals, seafood shippers and state-funded meals-on-wheels programs will be exempt.
Maine has banned foam food containers at state facilities and functions since 1993. Some communities in the state had also already banned polystyrene.
The legislation faced strong opposition from the plastics industry, food service container manufacturers and Maine business and tourism groups, which argued polystyrene is economical and better than other materials at keeping food from spoiling.
Plastics Industry Opposes Law
Such industry groups argue Maine’s new law doesn’t mean consumers will stop littering and doesn’t ensure alternatives will be better for the environment.
“It is our sincere hope that Gov. Mills and the Maine Legislature will reconsider this legislation next year after they see how it will negatively impact the environment and local businesses and consumers,” said Omar Terrie, a director in the American Chemistry Council’s plastics division.
The plastics industry also says they’re taking voluntary steps to make plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or recoverable by 2030. The industry in January committed to spending $1.5 billion over five years to end plastic waste through a new nonprofit, The Alliance to End Plastic Waste, according to American Chemistry Council lobbyist Margaret Gorman.
“All packaging leaves an environmental footprint regardless of the material type,” Gorman told Maine lawmakers in written testimony.
Maine State Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Ben Gilman said the bill would raise costs for small businesses, in particular, while sending a “chilling message” to companies in the state that manufacture food service containers.