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04 • 30 • 2019

Ban single-use foam food containers, Maine!

The Maine Chapter worked with our Northeast Regional Manager to support the passage of a law to prohibit the sale or distribution of disposable food service containers composed in whole or in part of polystyrene foam.

Folks who have been following or involved with our Maine Chapter for a while know that this wasn't our first rodeo trying to ban polystyrene statewide. On the heels of our victory banning polystyrene food packing in the city of Portland, Maine in June 2014, we ran a campaign to support passage of a statewide bill LD468 in 2015, sponsored by then Maine House Representative Christine Burstein. The vote on LD468 in the House was tight and along party lines, with 77 voting to accept the ought not to pass report and 69 voting to reject it, with 5 absent. And with that, our first attempt died. 

When Representative Stanley Paige Zeigler was first elected to the House, he revived this idea to rid Maine of polystyrene, by introducing LD103 in 2017. A scientist by trade, Rep. Zeigler testified expertly to the dangers and risks associated with using polystyrene for food packaging and again, we rallied our support behind this bill, testifying during hearing and helping build support. That bill was combined with another similar bill, LD57, which was Maine House Representative Mick Devin's plastic bag ban bill for that session. Unfortunately, however, the combo bill was diluted to a point of not being good law, and while it passed on a slim party line vote to be enacted, it was returned with a veto by then Governor Paul LePage and did not have the 2/3 majority of both chambers to overturn that veto…and there the combo bill died on May 16, 2017.

Now comes 2019, with fifteen Maine towns now having local restrictions on polystyrene food packaging and with a new Governor in charge and a change of political will in the state House and Senate, renewed energy around sound environmental policy came into play, and Rep. Zeigler tried again. We are beyond stoked to report that this time around, LD289 was victorious, making Maine the first state in the nation to ban polystyrene food packaging!!!! Governor Mills signed the bill into law on April 30, 2019, and it goes into effect Jan. 1, 2021

Three cheers to Rep. Zeigler and to all who helped this bill come to passage by sharing our infographics on social media, emailing your electeds, and submitting testimony!


Check out LD289 and LD621, which both came to public hearing at 1pm on February 20, 2019.

The Surfrider Maine Chapter submitted testimony in support of the intents of these bills, along with a similar bill, LD505.

The work session where the Committee deliberated the bill and testimony presented, was scheduled for 2/28/19 at 2pm, after which the committee voted on whether to recommend the bill for passage or not to the full House and Senate.

LD621 was released to the House and Senate with a report of ought not to pass.

LD289 came out of Committee with divided reports of ought to pass with different amendments, which means the Committee did not reach consensus on how the bill should pass. LD289 had a work session for amendment language and fiscal information deliberation on 3/27/19 during the Environment and Natural Resources Committee's morning meeting, and then moved to the House.

The House voted favorably on April 4, 2019 to pass LD289 as amended (Yeas 87 - Nays 51 - Absent 11 - Excused 1 Vacant 1 - see how YOUR Maine House Representative voted, here, and consider sending a thank you or note of concern!).

The majority amended bill summary that passed the House is as thus:

This amendment, which is the majority report of the committee, replaces the bill, repeals the existing law regarding nondegradable food and beverage containers and enacts a new provision of law regarding disposable food service containers. Under the amendment, beginning January 1, 2021, a food establishment is prohibited, subject to certain exemptions, from processing, preparing, selling or providing food or beverages in or on a disposable food service container that is composed in whole or in part of polystyrene foam. The amendment also:

1. Excludes from the definition of “disposable food service container” polystyrene foam coolers and ice chests that are used for the processing or shipping of seafood;

2. Adds sleeves and stirrers to the definition of “service ware”;

3. Excludes from the definition of “food establishment” hospitals licensed under the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 22, chapter 405 and so-called meals on wheels establishments funded in whole or in part directly or indirectly by the Department of Health and Human Services; and

4. Incorporates from the existing law, which was repealed in the amendment, regarding nondegradable food and beverage containers certain definitions, a penalty provision and a prohibition on the use of plastic beverage stirrers by food establishments providing or serving beverages at a facility or function of the State or of a political subdivision.

The bill then got a bit jumbled in the Senate, where an amendment was discussed to mandate the creation of a study regarding recycling and reuse of polystyrene products rather than banning them, adding a charge to every cup given at point of sale with the money from the fees being used to pay for the study. This was no bueno, and fortunately with YOUR HELP and the help of bill sponsor, Representative Zeigler, on April 16, 2019, the Senate brought back the approved House version of LD289, which was read a second time and engrossed to be enacted, with the Senate voting favorably 23-10 on April 18. Finally, on April 25, 2019, the Senate voted favorably (Yeas 23 - Nays 10 - Excused 2 - Absent 0; roll call here, consider sending a thank you or email of concern to your Maine State Senator! Contact info here), which then sent the bill to the Governor. Governor Janet T. Mills then signed the bill into law on April 30, 2019, making Maine the first state in the nation to ban polystyrene foam food packaging and hardwares (final bill language here)! 

“Polystyrene cannot be recycled like a lot of other products, so while that cup of coffee may be finished, the Styrofoam cup it was in is not,” Mills said in a statement. “In fact, it will be around for decades to come and eventually it will break down into particles, polluting our environment, hurting our wildlife, and even detrimentally impacting our economy.”

The law also applies to restaurants using polystyrene cups and plastic beverage stirrers.