Plastic Pollution
April 30 2019

Maine: First in the Nation Statewide Polystyrene Ban!

by Melissa Gates

Picture it: you're at the beach after a long workweek and ready to pitch your chair, maybe hit some waves, and take in your favorite ocean environment while soaking in the healing inspiration so many find in being at the seaside. You're settling in, listening to the perfectly timed crashing of the waves on the shore, feeling the sun warm every ember of your being while the salt air seems to seep right into your soul with the delighted sounds of children laughing, birds and fellow beachgoers playing a perfect background symphony.

And then, as you massage your toes into the warm, silky sand...darn it, you start to see it all around you; those tiny little white nubbles of polystyrene crumble from cups, clamshell food packaging, coolers - ugh! It's seemingly EVERYWHERE! If you're like most Surfriders, that's when you pull out the bag that you of course brought with you to help leave the beach cleaner than you found it by picking up trash you see, and despite knowing you can't possibly pick up every piece of this stuff you do what you can to get it off from the beach, reaffirming your mantra to refuse these products and instead opting to bring your own.

Well, Surfriders, as of January 1, 2021, this one type of debris will no longer be as much of an issue at Maine's beaches! Thanks to the hard work and dedication of House Representative Stanley Paige Zeigler, the Surfrider Maine Chapter and many other environmental nonprofits and leaders, on April 30, 2019 upon Governor Janet T. Mills signing LD289 into law, Maine became the first state in the nation to ban polystyrene food containers and service wares! 

Here at Surfrider we know that hard work, solid science and persistence can pay off in big wins to protect the ocean, waves and beaches we all love. Our leadership on polystyrene mitigation in Maine harkens back to the Surfrider Maine Chapter's June 6, 2014 victory in Portland, Maine, where the task force they had been invited by the City to be a part of in 2013 to help develop ordinances to mitigate pollution from single-use checkout bags and polystyrene containers (colloquially known in the same way facial tissue is known as "Kleenex" by the brand name, "Styrofoam") successfully resulted in a ban on this environmentally devastating food packaging and a bag fee ordinance.

On the heels of that local victory, 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 at banning polystyrene statewide died. 

When Representative Stanley Paige Zeigler was first elected to the House, he revived this idea to rid Maine of polystyrene in the 2017 session by introducing LD103. 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. In Committee deliberations, 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 later 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 that favors more robust environmental progress, the ever-determined Rep. Zeigler tried again, with LD289. After the House voted the bill out favorably on 4/4/19, we had a heated few days where the minority Committee report was discussed in the Senate, threatening to relegate the ban to a study with a fee imposed for each cup sold. We were notified of this movement immediately and were able to help course correct, getting the House version of the bill back on track in the Senate. We are beyond stoked to report that this time around, LD289 was victorious with the Senate voting favorably on 4/25/19 in concurrence with the House, and upon Governor Mills signing the bill into law on April 30, 2019, Maine became the first state in the nation to ban polystyrene food packaging and service wares. The ban goes into effect Jan. 1, 2021. 

Rep.Zeigler, who represents Maine State House District 96 (Belmont, Liberty, Lincolnville, Montville, Morrill, Palermo and Searsmont) said, "It is a shame we have to have bans but when you have products that are proven to be detrimental to human health and the health of the planet then a ban is necessary. Not only is health an issue but also polystyrene's inability to be disposed of properly which costs the communities in having to landfill the product." 

While Maryland's Governor Larry Hogan may now be kicking himself at the lost opportunity to be the first state in the nation to make this bill law, we contend that being second isn't half bad when the positive impacts to the environment are this good! Maryland is in good company with at least 35 polystyrene mitigation bills across 11 U.S. states making their ways through the process this legislative session. 

The Surfrider Maine Chapter is not alone in this fight; indeed, many chapters and clubs across the nation are leveraging our Ocean Friendly Restaurants and Rise Above Plastics programs as well as educational events, speaking engagements and beach cleanups to advance their campaigns to get rid of polystyrene and all single-use products, helping truly shift the tides away from the wasteful single-use paradigm and into more sustainable, reusable habits. Thanks for doing YOUR part!!

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What LD289 will do:

Beginning January 1, 2021, Maine's establishments will be prohibited from processing, preparing, selling or providing food or beverages using single-use food service containers that are made of polystyrene!

1. With certain exceptions this includes any container, bowl, plate, tray, carton, cup, lid, sleeve, stirrer or other item designed to be used to contain, transport, serve or consume prepared foods.

2. Excludes from the definition of "disposable food service container" polystyrene foam coolers and ice chests that are used for the processing or shipping of sea life;

3. Excludes hospitals and meals on wheels programs that are funded by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

For a comphensive historical overview of our efforts to ban polystyrene in Maine, links to the passed law, and more, check out our campaign write-up.

FMI: mgates@surfrider.org