Senator Saviello, Representative Welsh, 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. I appreciate this opportunity to testify on LD 468.
NRCM believes that a strong case can be made for banning Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam food containers in the state of Maine, as has been done in more than 100 cities across the country. We appreciate that Representative Burstein has introduced this bill, so that lawmakers can consider this issue and discuss policy options moving forward.
It is important to understand at the outset that Mainers do not currently have an economically viable recycling option for EPS containers. EPS packaging is a low-value commodity, and shipping baled polystyrene foam is inefficient and requires expensive densifying equipment, storage, and transportation. EPS foam easily breaks into smaller pieces, making it difficult to manage in a recycling facility. Without a recycling option, single-use EPS packaging containers that have become so ubiquitous in our drive-through and take-out food culture go straight into our solid waste stream. This is one of the reasons why New York City banned EPS.
New York City and other cities also have taken action to ban EPS because of the litter caused by EPS food containers. The lightweight and buoyant nature of EPS foam allows to it be carried by wind or through storm drains and enter the ocean more easily than alternative products. When it enters the marine ecosystem, it breaks down into tiny pieces that are easily ingested by fish and wildlife—which can be fatal. This committee recently took important action to reduce plastic pollution in the marine environment through passage of LD 85, phasing out microplastic beads in personal care products. LD 468 also would eliminate sources of plastic debris that are harmful to fisheries and the marine environment.
When the city of Portland considered adopting a ban on EPS, it carefully evaluated whether affordable alternatives are readily available–and they are. EPS food container bans have been successful in reducing waste and litter in more than 100 cities across the country, and those communities have easily shifted to alternative packaging. Many of those cities have larger populations than the entire State of Maine. Many restaurants and businesses have shown important leadership by voluntarily phasing out EPS, and shifting to biodegradable alternatives. For instance, McDonalds quit using foam clamshells in 1990 and announced that it will phase out foam cups at its 14,000 restaurants by 2016.
NRCM supports policies to discourage the use of EPS foam food containers, which is why we believe LD 468 is an important bill that deserves the Committee’s careful consideration. Thank you for this opportunity to provide comments.