2022 | Green

Expansion of polystyrene ban in Montgomery County takes effect

Legislation prohibits #6 polystyrene products, clarifies intent of 2015 law

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Image from Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection

An additional ban on the use of polystyrene food service businesses in Montgomery County, aimed at nonrecyclable products, took effect on Saturday.

The law, passed by the County Council in October 2020, bans food-service businesses from using polystyrene products with a number 6 on them. It builds on a previous law the council passed in 2015 banning polystyrene products.

In 2015, the County Council passed a law that banned the use of all expanded polystyrene food service products and the sale of expanded polystyrene loose-fill packaging, or packing peanuts. The 2015 law mandated that county government agencies and contractors use only compostable or recyclable products.

Starting in 2017, the mandate also went into effect for private businesses.

The goal of the newer law is to “make it absolutely clear” that the use and sale of rigid polystyrene food service items are also banned in the county, Eileen Kao, the chief of the Department of Environmental Protection’s Waste Reduction and Recycling Section, explained in an email to Bethesda Beat.

Rigid polystyrene products are not recyclable, and are marked with a number 6 in the middle of a triangle.

Kao wrote that the county has carried out a “switch from #6” outreach campaign to inform businesses that could be affected by the law, as well as the general public. Roughly 3,512 businesses could be affected by the clarifying legislation, according to Kao.

According to the county , number 6 products can include:

  • Foam and non-foam/rigid containers
  • Bowls
  • Plates
  • Trays
  • Cartons
  • Cups

The county has eliminated the use of polystyrene products over the years. Fish and other aquatic wildlife can mistake broken down pieces for food. Additionally, the region doesn’t have enough adequate recycling facilities for polystyrene products.

A few food service items are exempt, which are:

  • Food or beverage items filled and packaged in polystyrene containers outside the county before a business in the county receives them.
  • Materials used to package raw, uncooked or butchered meat, fish, poultry or seafood for off-premises consumption.
  • Items for which there is no “affordable compostable or recyclable alternative” as determined by the county executive. An exemption list of these items will be made publicly available.

The county maintains a running list of vendors on its website that offer affordable compostable or recyclable food service products.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com