A bill currently up for debate within the Maine State Legislature could soon have local businesses facing an unexpected economic hardship. Leaders of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee are considering a bill that would result in a statewide ban of polystyrene foam food containers. Polystyrene foam, which consumers often mistakenly call Styrofoam®, a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company, makes up several forms of single-use foodservice products. These items, such as hot beverage cups and take-away food containers, are safe, cost-effective and provide amenities that both consumers and vendors prefer over alternative products.
The bill discussed at a public hearing on March 9 could have a devastating economic impact on the small businesses that depend on the reduced costs associated with using polystyrene foam items. Representative Christine Burstein of Lincolnville, ME is sponsoring the proposal, and recently stated that it is not a “radical or impractical initiative” given the “environmental and health costs of Styrofoam.”
However, Burstein does not go on to address exactly what costs she’s trying to describe. The statement that polystyrene foam is bad for the environment or our health is simply a misconception. On the contrary, styrene, the compound that makes up these products, occurs naturally in foods consumed by individuals every day, including wheat, beef, strawberries and coffee beans. Moreover, the Styrene Information Research Center (SIRC) has invested nearly $12 million and almost three decades of research to review the effects of styrene exposure. After extensive health studies reviewing individuals who have occupations within styrene-related industries, the SIRC concluded that prolonged exposure to styrene does not increase the risk of developing cancer.
Supporting this measure means disregarding the small businesses that could be affected financially if forced to switch from foam products to more expensive alternatives, such as paper. With this reasoning in mind, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and other business groups have testified directly against the bill. According to MB Public Affairs, an independent research firm, a study from 2013 proved that once a foam ban is implemented, for every $1.00 restaurants spent on polystyrene foam products they would be required to spend at least $1.94 on alternative products. Should this bill be implemented, it will bring an unnecessary financial burden to small businesses, which will ultimately stem from individuals simply not doing their homework in regards to foam products.