Maine bans polystyrene food containers

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Maine has become the first state to ban polystyrene food containers, adding topspin to a movement that had not previously extended beyond a handful of local jurisdictions.

The measure, signed into law last week by Gov. Janet Mills, takes effect Jan. 1. It bans any disposable food or beverage container made with polystyrene, the foam-like packaging material sold under the brand name Styrofoam.

The ban is comprehensive. The law specifically outlaws any “container, bowl, plate, tray, carton, cup, lid or other item designed to be used for prepared foods,” and covers virtually any business selling food, from restaurants to farm stands. 

The responsibilities and methods for policing the ban, and the penalties for violators, were not set out in the law. Those details will be hammered out by the state’s executive branch in the months ahead.

Maine may have narrowly edged out Hawaii to become the first state to ban polystyrene. A bill prohibiting the use of containers made with the common packaging material was introduced in Hawaii’s legislature in January and has cleared several committees already. 

A ban has also been proposed in California. 

A polystyrene ban went into effect in New York City on Jan. 1, after a court battle that raged for several years. It joined a number of cities large and small—from Glen Cove, N.Y., to Seattle—that have already outlawed the container because it does not degrade in landfills and can pose a threat to wildlife if discarded as litter. The list includes Freeport and Portland, Maine. 

A number of counties have also prohibited restaurants from using the familiar containers, which were widely adapted in the 1980s because of their low cost, integrity and heat-retention properties.

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