Photograph by Marvin Joseph, The Washington Post/Getty Images
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Restrictions on foam food containers are spreading around the world as governments try to reduce plastic pollution.

Photograph by Marvin Joseph, The Washington Post/Getty Images

Maine passes the U.S.'s first state ban on foam food packaging

The state joins several U.S. cities and counties in restricting the containers in an effort to reduce waste.

This article was created in partnership with the National Geographic Society.

Maine has joined a growing list of states, cities, and counties, including 14 towns in Maine, to ban foam food containers in an effort to reduce plastic waste.

The bill bans bowls, plates, cups, trays, cartons, and other containers designed to hold prepared food and beverages. Signed by Governor Janet Mills Tuesday, it takes effect January 1, 2021.

Disposable containers made of expanded polystyrene are widely used because they are inexpensive, lightweight, and keep cooked food hot. The containers are also difficult to recycle and easily fracture into small pieces.

They “are a significant contributor to environmental plastics pollution,” Mills said in a statement. “Due to their light weight, they are easily windblown during waste handling processes.”

Certain businesses, including hospitals and seafood shippers, are exempted from the ban.

The American Chemistry Council, which opposed the legislation, said alternative food packaging can cost restaurant owners nearly twice as much as foam packaging and will hurt local business owners.

Omar Terrie, director of the council’s plastics foodservice packaging group, said in a statement that Maine’s ban also will “do little to help keep the state clean.”

The ban, he said, “could lead to increased solid waste, energy use, water use, and greenhouse gas emissions… It is our sincere hope that Governor Mills and the Maine legislature will reconsider this legislation next year…”

Plastics 101

Mills’ signature on the legislation meant that Maine officially became the first state to ban plastic foam packaging. Maryland legislators passed similar legislation in April, but it has not yet been signed by Governor Larry Hogan. He has not publicly indicated his position on the bill. The legislation can take effect without his signature, or he can veto it. It passed the legislature by super-majorities, meaning the legislature could override a veto.

New York City’s ban on foam took effect January 1 after a long legal battle that began during the mayoral administration of Michael Bloomberg. City officials will start enforcing the ban on July 1. Foam food containers have been banned in San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Miami Beach, Portland, Oregon, and elsewhere.

The European Parliament took steps toward banning foam food and drink containers earlier this spring as part of a sweeping action on single-use plastic items.

National Geographic is committed to reducing plastics pollution. Learn more about our non-profit activities at natgeo.org/plastics. Learn what you can do to reduce your own single-use plastics, and take your pledge.

The National Geographic Society and Sky Ocean Ventures have launched the Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge, which asks problem solvers around the globe to develop novel solutions to tackle the world’s plastic waste crisis. Have an idea? Submit your solution by June 11 at oceanplastic-challenge.org.