BALTIMORE -- Dozens of people gathered at the Maryland Science Center on Earth Day to congratulate the state General Assembly for passing the first statewide foam ban in the nation and call on Gov. Larry Hogan to sign the legislation into law. Earlier in the day, volunteers for Environment Maryland and Maryland PIRG hit the streets around the Inner Harbor, organizing people to urge the governor’s office to take action.
That spirit perpetuates a tradition that has made Earth Day a success for nearly five decades. Most victories in the environmental arena have come when Americans put their voices, votes and dollars behind their values, cheering on politicians and corporations who did the right thing, and holding them accountable when they didn’t. We now have cleaner air and water than in 1970, when Sen. Gaylord Nelson organized the first Earth Day to raise environmental awareness, but we still have work to do.
“While we celebrate Earth Day, we must also recognize that for too long our throwaway culture has treated the planet like a landfill,” said Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr. “Rivers of plastic waste are littering our cities and flowing into the harbor, harming our quality of life and wildlife. Single-use plastics have to go.”
Foam containers are one of the most common and harmful forms of single-use plastic waste. Polystyrene foam, commonly known as Styrofoam, is not recyclable, breaks apart easily, and can harbor toxic chemicals. Because plastic does not readily biodegrade, these foam pieces will threaten our health and wildlife for centuries.
As more and more companies have adopted plastic packaging over the past 49 years since the inaugural Earth Day, global plastic production has increased more than 10-fold. Around the world, enough plastic is dumped into the environment each year to cover every foot of the coastline with five plastic bags. But forward-looking state bills such as the one in Maryland give us an opportunity to turn things around.
“Nothing we use for a few minutes should pollute our environment for hundreds of years,” explained Environment Maryland Citizen Outreach Director Megan Anderson. “We’ve knocked on tens of thousands of doors in the last year talking to Marylanders who support a statewide foam ban, and it’s time for the governor to make history.”
The legislation that Gov. Hogan should sign is just one of dozens of anti-plastic waste bills introduced across the country. Environment Maryland and Maryland PIRG are part of state and national coalitions combating the misuse of plastics.
The public increasingly finds plastic pollution unacceptable. Like Maryland, Maine and Vermont are also on the verge of banning take-out plastic foam cups and containers. In California, citizens won a statewide ban on single-use plastic grocery bags. Nearly a quarter of Americans live in a city or state where some single-use plastics are banned or limited. The European Union passed comprehensive legislation to reduce single-plastics ranging from cigarette filters to fishing nets by 2021.
Now it’s Maryland’s turn. More than 50 percent of the state lives in a community where a foam ban has already been approved. But Marylanders deserve better.
“Cheap plastics, including foams, are everywhere, because that’s what manufacturers push through the supply chain to businesses and individuals,” said Alex Truelove, U.S. PIRG’s Zero Waste Director. “This problem is too big for any one person to resolve -- except for someone such as Governor Hogan, who can change the paradigm for millions of people with the stroke of a pen.”