Senator Saviello, Representative Tucker, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, my name is Ryan Parker and I am the Environmental Policy Outreach Coordinator for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. I appreciate this opportunity to testify in support of LD 103.
Thanks to leadership by members of this Committee, Maine has taken important actions to reduce plastic pollution in the marine environment, including through passage in 2015 of LD 85, phasing out microplastic beads in personal care products. LD 103 would eliminate another major source of plastic debris that harms Maine fisheries and the economic gains our seafood and tourism industries bring to the state.
It is important to understand that Mainers do not have an economically viable recycling option for EPS containers. EPS foam easily breaks into smaller pieces, making it difficult for recycling facilities to manage. Recycling this material requires expensive densifying and packaging equipment, storage, and transportation. EPS packaging is a low-value commodity, which makes investment in these technologies all but impossible for businesses and certainly prohibitive for Maine municipalities. The lightweight and buoyant nature of these materials, as well as the fact that containers break apart so easily, allows EPS containers and fragments to be carried by wind or through storm drains, littering our roadsides and entering our waterways more easily than alternative products. When it enters waterways, EPS breaks down into tiny pieces that are easily ingested by fish and wildlife—which can be fatal.
Just as important as the negative environmental impacts, EPS is directly affecting us. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 100% of humans, including every member of this Committee and me, have styrene in our bodies. EPS, which easily migrates into the food these containers store, is listed as a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and is a known carcinogen in lab animals.
EPS food container bans have been successful in reducing waste and litter in more than 100 cities across the country, including some in Maine. Freeport adopted a ban on these containers more than 25 years ago. The communities and local businesses that have shifted to alternative packaging have not experienced negative economic impacts. When the City of Portland considered adopting a ban on EPS, it carefully evaluated whether affordable alternatives were readily available. The existence of those alternatives was a deciding factor in the City’s decision to move forward with the ban. In Lubec and nearby towns, dozens of small business owners, many of whom operate on razor-thin margins, have switched to alternative products after efforts by residents and a local tourism group led to greater awareness of the problems of these foam containers. Not only did business owners have no trouble finding alternatives, many report customers thanking them for making the switch. Bangor is currently considering both a foam container and a plastic bag ban. Maryland is also currently considering a statewide ban on this harmful material.
NRCM commends Representative Zeigler for introducing this bill because it provides lawmakers with an opportunity to further establish Maine as a leader while providing stability and uniformity throughout the state. NRCM supports policies to discourage the use of EPS foam food containers, which is why we believe LD 103 is an important bill that deserves the Committee’s careful consideration. Thank you for this opportunity to provide comments. I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.