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Maine Could Be First State to Ban Foam Food Containers

Depending on what its final language looks like, the propsed bill could include common foam containers used for eggs and meat products at grocery stores as well

Maine's Senate and House passed a bill Wednesday banning polystyrene food containers which would include single-use foam boxes many restaurants have used for years. The bill now heads to Gov. Janet Mills' desk but not everyone is on board with the move.

Depending on what its final language looks like, it could include common foam containers used for eggs and meat products at grocery stores as well.

Christine Cummings, executive director of the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association (MGFPA), says businesses she represents would take a financial hit.

"This ban is quite impactful to the grocer and food producer community," said Cummings. "This will really make Maine an outlier."

Other states and cities, however, have or are considering similar proposals.

New York City already has a ban on single-use polystyrene containers and Maryland's state legislature approved a similar law to Maine's that is awaiting a signature from Gov. Larry Hogan.

Maine also has a few cities and towns like Portland, South Portland, and Bar Harbor that have their own municipal bans citing how long it takes polystyrene to decompose and how complicated it is to recycle.

Cummings says the MGFPA would prefer individual communities decide on their own bans because that would mean "consumers not governments" are driving the decision.

In Wiscasset, a town that does not prohibit polystyrene containers, local restaurant owners and employees say a ban would not impact them because they've either moved away from foam containers or never used them in the first place.

Staff at Sarah’s Café explained they gave up foam packaging around 2008. Meghan Olcott, owner of Creamed, a bakery which just opened for its second season, said the idea of using non-sustainable packaging or utensils never crossed her mind.

Instead, Olcott pointed out her brand new biodegradable straws, which come in various colors.

"I like the green and black ones," she said.

Even at Wiscasset's big and famous player, Red's Eats, where customers were lined up for lobster rolls before the stand opened at 11:30 a.m., co-owner Deborah Gagnon is no foam fan.

In fact, new this year at Red's are signs about the restaurant "going green."

Gagnon says being environmentally conscious is personal to her because she's found trash in hay bale shipments for her horses.

New for 2019, Red's will try to go strawless, offering only paper straws upon request.

"I hope that because we're well-known, it will encourage others to do the same," said Gagnon.

Gagnon also said she hopes more restaurants switch to environmentally-conscious packaging and utensils because a greater demand will lower the price of sustainable items for businesses.

Whether Maine's legislature views polystyrene the same way it's viewed at a trio of Wiscasset businesses is another matter.

The state Senate will have an opportunity to tweak the law and Mills will also have to approve it as well.

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