Senator Carson, Representative Tucker, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, my name is Sarah Lakeman and I am the Sustainable Maine Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). I appreciate this opportunity to speak to you in support of LD 289, LD 621, and LD 505.
NRCM believes that there are many policy opportunities available that would help reduce plastic pollution by making dining less wasteful in Maine—and these three bills aim to do just that. Ideally all food ware, such as cups, plates, bowls, utensils, and take-out containers would be reusable; but at the very least these items should be easily recyclable or compostable to avoid being sent to incinerators and landfills. The State has already acknowledged this preference when we adopted the Solid Waste Management Hierarchy—reduce—reuse—recycle—compost—waste to energy—landfill in M.R.S. Title 38 §2101. Although following this hierarchy is a policy of the State, putting it into practice will require more actions, such as eliminating the use of food ware that has no chance of being recycled or composted, like plastic foam, and creating an incentive for the reduction or reuse of all food ware in Maine.
LD 289 and LD 621: Proposals to curb pollution by eliminating the use of plastic foam food containers
NRCM has been advocating for the elimination of plastic foam food ware since 1988 when the Committee heard LD 2178, An Act to Ban Disposable Styrofoam Food and Drink Containers from Public Cafeterias; a bill that resulted in M.R.S. Title 38 §1652, which prohibits polystyrene foam from being distributed by State and political subdivision facilities and functions. To date, 15 Maine towns have decided to ban the use of foam food containers because they are unnecessary and are a major pollution concern. We were proud to work with many of the local residents in those towns who pushed for change, and we expect more towns will follow suit. In fact, spurred by local high school students and other residents, Bethel and York are currently considering proposals to restrict this material.
We strongly urge the Committee to support a bill that would restrict plastic foam food ware from being sold or distributed anywhere within the state of Maine for four primary reasons.
- Plastic foam containers are widely used and pose serious issues for Maine communities because they cannot feasibly be recycled. Mainers use and dispose of about 256,868,000 polystyrene foam cups, plates, bowls, platters, and trays each year. And each piece is destined to become waste or litter after only a single-use since it cannot feasibly be recycled in Maine due to its low value and high cost of recycling. A 2013 letter from ecomaine to the City of Portland outlines the challenges posed by recycling plastic foam containers, and it is attached for your review. Further, many consumers are not aware foam is not recyclable here, which makes plastic foam a common contaminant in our municipal recycling streams, and can be potentially costly to towns if these contaminated recycling loads are rejected. For all these reasons and more, more than 150 U.S. jurisdictions have banned this material, including but not limited to New York City, Washington, DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles County, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon.
- Plastic foam is a common, costly, and deadly form of plastic pollution: Plastic foam food containers are among the top 10 most commonly littered items in the United States. This material’s lightweight nature and bead-like structure allow it to be carried easily by the wind and currents, where it breaks up into even tinier bits of 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. It’s estimated that litter clean-up costs $11.5 billion each year, and it’s clear that our state tourism and fishing economy relies on having a clean, litter-free landscape.
- There are affordable alternatives to plastic foam food ware that are less wasteful and less harmful to the environment: Ideally all food ware would be reusable, but, plastic foam, as opposed to other forms of plastic, is particularly problematic when it ends up as litter, and since it has no chance of being recycled, almost any alternative is preferred. We shouldn’t let the excuse to use the cheapest possible materials win the day—and in some cases, there are even cheaper options than plastic foam. There are many recyclable and compostable alternatives to this material readily available on the market, and many store owners in Maine opt to use those materials voluntarily because it’s the right thing to do. Retailers and restaurants may find that their customers are pleased that they are no longer offered this material, and may indeed boost customer satisfaction. As more Maine stores and restaurants eliminate plastic foam and instead demand recyclable or compostable alternatives, economic theory suggests that the price for the alternatives will decrease over time. There is a cost-comparison chart attached that was used by the City of Portland in 2014 for a reference on prices.
- Creating a more uniform statewide policy would be helpful for Maine’s retailers and restaurants: With 15 Maine towns and counting who have adopted ordinances restricting foam, affecting at least 15% of the population, implementation of varying policies can be challenging. For instance, the town ordinances vary in which businesses are impacted, exemptions, and definitions. We suggest taking a broad, fair approach with a statewide policy to increase effectiveness by reducing confusion, and we urge against weakening any existing ordinance. NRCM would be happy to help the Committee navigate through the variances in policies at the work session. Tricky decision points will likely include: 1) Should the policy ban the retail sale of plastic foam? 2) Should there be any exemptions for shipping seafood or other circumstances? 3) What happens if food is packaged in foam outside of the state? 4) What will happen with the existing town ordinances? And 5) What is the appropriate timeline for phase in? The Committee may want to anticipate these questions, and ask those here to testify for their input.
LD 505: A proposal that explores ways to encourage reusable food ware in eating establishments
NRCM considers a policy like the one proposed in LD 505 to be “the next frontier” for jurisdictions that have already banned the use of plastic bags and foam food containers, which are considered the low-hanging fruit of single-use plastics to eliminate. This policy moves food ware higher up on the hierarchy by purposefully targeting waste reduction and reuse. And, since this policy also requires take-out food ware to be recyclable or compostable, that would be the same as banning plastic foam food ware.
For background, this policy was inspired by Berkeley, California, which just passed the most ambitious food ware policy in the nation. Soon, consumers in Berkeley will pay 25 cents for a disposable cup if they forget to bring their own; and Berkeley restaurants are required to switch to compostable takeout packaging. Further, the city hopes to launch a program that would allow residents to borrow reusable takeout containers, which LD 505 doesn’t propose, but is something that the Committee could consider.
LD 505 is a forward-thinking and aspirational policy proposal, and we hope the Committee will consider moving forward with it. If not, then it’s likely that Maine towns will begin to adopt ordinances similar to that in Berkeley, and in a few short years we will again have a variety of laws sprinkled throughout the state. Then again, this Committee will be trying to figure out what a good statewide policy should be—just like what is being done with foam food ware. We believe that at the very least, this bill should require that our State’s facilities lead by example, just as was done with plastic foam food ware back in 1988.
Thank you so much for your time and careful consideration of these bills and my comments. I’d be happy to answer any questions that you may have.
 Maine Municipalities that have restricted the use of plastic foam food ware include: Freeport, Portland, South Portland, Brunswick, Saco, Topsham, Cape Elizabeth, Belfast, Bath, Blue Hill, Rockland, Newcastle, Southwest Harbor, Camden, and Bar Harbor.
 Source: Reducing Single-Use Consumer Products, Author Travis Wagner, Maine Policy Review Vol. 25, No. 2 2016
 McDonald’s stopped using polystyrene clamshell containers in 1990. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, this and other changes in packaging actually saved the company an estimated $6 million per year, and in the decade following the packaging changes, McDonald’s reduced restaurant waste by 30 percent.
 This is just for discussion purposes, prices vary by volume and location, and there are too many alternative options for plastic foam to list them all in their entirety.