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Styrofoam Off the Menu

Styrofoam containers are fine when filled with cashew chicken or barbecue. It's when they are floating in Baltimore's Inner Harbor or taking up landfill space that has Councilman Jim Kraft concerned. In June, he proposed a bill that would prohibit restaurants from using Styrofoam.

During previous clean-ups of the Inner Harbor, foam plastic has accounted for almost 64 percent of the materials collected, according to data from the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Kraft says that of the materials caught in one creek that feeds into the harbor, virtually everything could be recycled except the Styrofoam containers. He also expresses concern regarding the amount of time the material takes to break down in landfills — estimated at 500 years — and the harm done to the ozone layer as a result of production.

If the ordinance is implemented, which could take six months to one year, restaurants would be fined $200 for violating the ban.

Since the bill's proposal, the councilman's office says it has received responses from two companies offering solutions to the Styrofoam issue. Packaging Development Resources has suggested a recovery and reuse program for the material, and Earth-Shell has touted its biodegradable products made from starches mixed with limestone, fiber and water, which the company says are priced competitively with commonly used Styrofoam products.

While residents have expressed support for the measure, Kraft says the restaurant industry has been the most vocal opponent, in addition to complaints from the American Chemical Society and a lobbyist representing Styrofoam manufacturers. Some restaurants have argued that alternatives would be too costly.

Kraft, however, sees the ban as an opportunity for manufacturers of new technologies to market themselves. “The more they can market the product, the cheaper it will become,” he says. “People are resistant to change, so we have to convince them that there is a way to accomplish the goal and minimize the cost.”