February 4, 2023
Annapolis, US 28 F

Guest Column: An alternative to a styrofoam ban

Just like bad news, bad policies travel fast and if we’re not careful, we run the risk of Baltimore’s wrongheaded styrofoam ban has the potential to travel down to Annapolis and affect the entire state.

On April 19th, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, signed into law the city’s styrofoam ban.

As a former resident of Charm City and the former owner of three restaurants there, I keenly watched the debate in the city council to see if any substantive opposition would speak up or creative alternatives to the ban considered. I was astonished to see that even within the city council membership, there was no substantive debate over alternatives to an outright ban, especially considering the significant financial burden that this overreaching ban will place on restaurants, healthcare facilities, and nonprofit service organizations such as Meals on Wheels.

The facts -styrofoam is an effective insulator and less expensive than other food packaging materials. And while the restaurant business is notoriously tough under any circumstances, this is critically important for our local “mom and pop” spots, where profit margins are razor thin at best. Forcing small business owners to pay more for packaging our food takes away money that could otherwise go to wages for our employees or to keep costs low for our customers.

Minority-owned restaurants, along with food trucks are often the most reliant on take-out services and forcing us to use far more expensive containers could destroy our businesses.

In Baltimore there was hardly any energy or effort put into researching alternatives to an outright ban of styrofoam. Had they done a little research, they would have discovered that styrofoam containers are recyclable and rather than banning a product that so many small businesses in Baltimore count on, the council should found a way to include styrofoam as a part of their recycling program and also endeavored to make recycling easier by encouraging recycling and eliminating littering through education, fines, municipal stormwater capture programs, and readily available public waste disposal options.

Don’t let Baltimore’s actions convince you that recycling is too hard, or that anti-littering campaigns are too expensive. Polystyrene items can be recycled and sold to companies that will turn the recycled plastic into picture frames, pens, and rulers. If they had followed the example of San Diego , they could have allowed styrofoam recycling in its already established program and the cost could be covered by the amount it makes on other recycled items.

I’m a small business owner. I own TD Burger on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and I will be opening a second location in Bowie in just a few months. I am also a progressive and have come to Annapolis many times to support legislation like the Clean Indoor Air Act, the tobacco tax increase and the minimum wage increase, I consider myself to a responsible business owner and an environmentalist. I am looking forward to being back in business in Maryland but I have to be honest and say that I am troubled that the styrofoam ban in place in Baltimore could become a statewide ban in next year’s legislative session.

Our policy makers have a tremendous opportunity to create a larger conversation about how we balance the interests of environmentalists, business owners and ordinary citizens. If we allow for a robust debate, I am sure that a workable compromise can be achieved. In Baltimore, their compromise was to move forward with the ban but there is an 18-month transition period for full implementation. While that may be viewed as a victory to some, I believe that the good people of Baltimore missed their chance to expand their recycling program and perhaps generate additional revenue that can be used to address other issues.

It is my sincere hope that our legislative leaders and the Governor will truly research and consider options other than an outright styrofoam ban. It is bad for business and and lacks a commitment to finding innovative solutions to complex problems. Maryland should be a leader in all things business and this issue gives our state the opportunity to prove it.

–Chef Timothy Dean

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