First U.S. State To Pass Complete Styrofoam Ban In Bid To Combat Ocean Pollution

By Christopher Thompson

It’s the first state to prohibit restaurants, caterers, coffee shops and grocery stores from using the to-go foam containers because they cannot be recycled locally.

Democratic governor, Janet Mills signed the bill on Tuesday and the law will come into full effect in 2021.

Styrofoam (or polystyrene) is a form of plastic made from non-renewable petroleum that does not biodegrade and can not be recycled.

From 2002 to 2015, approximately 316 million metric tonnes of polystyrene was producedglobally, with more than half of those products thrown out within a year of creation.

The effect that degraded polystyrene has on the ocean environment is profound — the material breaks down quickly in water environments and creates nano-sized particles that have been shown to travel through the food chain.

One 2018 study published in Nature found that nano-sized polystyrene particles can penetrate and change the tissue composition of fish organs, as well as penetrate embyros and eggs inside fish bodies.

Citizen-based environmental advocacy group, Envrionment Maine launched a campaign in mid-2018 collected nearly 8,000 signatures in favour of the ban and the group have celebrated the signing of the bill as a victory against ocean pollution.

Director of Environment Maine, Carissa Maurin, said that “nothing we use for a few minutes should pollute our rivers and oceans” and the group is now excited to see “several other states follow our lead”.

Oregon, Vermont and Connecticut are also considering banning the containers, while dozens of cities and counties have taken the legislation into their own hands in recent years, with cities such as New York and Berkeley, California passing their own bans.

The EU also passed a ban that will cut all single-use plastics and polystyrene products by 2021 in December of last year, in a bid to curb ocean pollution.

While Australia has not made any legislative progress towards a federal ban for single-use plastics, this year the ACT proposed a territory-wide ban on single use plastics, including polystyrene food containers and cups.

As for the polystyrene that is already in circulation, scientists have begun experimenting with several novel methods of degrading the material.

In one 2015 study conducted by Chinese and US researchers, mealworms were found to rapidly and efficiently degrade the plastic in their intestinal tracts without any health effects on the insects once they had consumed it.