Over the past few years, more municipalities and counties have prohibited the use and sale of polystyrene foam food service products and the sale of polystyrene loose fill packaging. They also require the use of compostable or recyclable single-use disposable food service ware by the county government and its contractors.
Several years ago, Maryland set ambitious “zero waste” goals under former Governor Martin O’Malley, and is doing better than many others with a 43.5% recycling diversion rate for 2014, but will likely fall short of the benchmark goal to hit 60% by 2020. To date, only Washington DC, PG County and Montgomery County MD have banned the use of Styrofoam products to reduce the amount of polystyrene waste entering the landfill and local waterways.
What are we talking about? Let’s get the lingo right.
What is Polystyrene or Beachapedia, is a type of plastic manufactured from non-renewable fossil fuels (which is where its connection to climate change comes in) and synthetic chemicals. It usually comes in two forms: “Expanded polystyrene foam (EPS), which is the stuff that’s made into cups, plates, take-out food containers, and packing materials; and “solid polystyrene,” which gets turned into plastic forks, CD and DVD cases, even smoke detector housings.
“Styrofoam” is how most of us generically refer to the EPS material, but it’s a term trademarked by the Dow Chemical Company for extruded polystyrene that’s used in thermal insulation and craft applications.
Beth Terry, author of My Plastic-Free Life, wrote a terrific guide explaining how producing and using plastic pollutes the air. When it comes to the foamy EPS, here are some other objections to using it:
• It does not biodegrade.
• It is made of fossil fuels and synthetic chemicals. Those chemicals may leach if they come in contact with hot, greasy or acidic food. Yes, they keep your coffee hot – but they may also add an unwanted dose of toxins to your drink.
• Animals sometimes eat it. Turtles and fish seem to mistake EPS for food, and that can kill them. Not only can they not digest it, but the foam could be full of poisons that it has absorbed from contaminants floating in the water.
• It can’t be recycled. Some commercial mailing houses may accept packing peanuts, but for the most part community recycling centers do not accept throwaway foam food containers.
“Edenton is taking a big step towards helping our environment. Beginning this month, Edenton will phase out using polystyrene containers.”
RaeAnn Butler, Administrator of Edenton
The foam containers are much less expensive but more harmful to the environment. Meal deliveries to our independent residents comprises the biggest use of these foam containers. Edenton researched and has received alternative containers to begin using in the next two weeks. We will try to use only items that are made from compostable material or is also recyclable.
What can Residents and Employees do to help?
• Residents who regularly take-home left overs following a meal or ask for dessert to be boxed up, consider bringing you own take home container.
• Employees who regularly order from the restaurant, please consider using your own container for take-out.
• Use a reusable coffee mug or plastic container.
• Use refillable water bottles in the office and during the day.

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