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Mayor Vincent Gray proposes ban on Styrofoam food containers

Thursday - 10/10/2013, 2:38pm  ET

Mayor Vincent Gray has proposed banning Styrofoam food containers in the District, citing their harmful effect on the Anacostia River.

The Styrofoam measure is part of a package of bills Gray recently submitted to the D.C. Council as part of his effort to “make the District of Columbia the healthiest, greenest, and most livable city in the United States,” the mayor wrote in a letter to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.

The legislation bans “expanded polystyrene” — the generic version of Dow Chemical’s Styrofoam — in food containers, plates, clamshells, hot and cold beverage cups, meat and vegetable trays and egg cartons. It will effect restaurants, grocery stores, food trucks, cafes, coffee shops, cafeterias, supermarkets and any other business that still uses Styrofoam to sell or provide food for consumption on or off the premises.

If approved, D.C. would join dozens of California jurisdictions, Seattle and a handful of east coast cities in banning polystyrene containers. Philadelphia, New York and Boston are considering similar measures. A group called “No Foam Chicago” is pushing a Styrofoam prohibition there.

“We’re finding just tons of this stuff in the river and it’s separating us from the greater glory of getting the river cleaned up and trash free,” said James Foster, president of the Anacostia Watershed Society.

Foster, who supports a polystyrene ban, operates a trash trap in the District along Nash Run, which feeds into the Anacostia. Roughly 40 percent of what’s pulled from that trap, according to an AWS analysis, are plastic bottles and cans and 21 percent is Styrofoam.

(Side note: The trash trap is located on National Park Service land, and the Anacostia Watershed Society is currently prohibited from clearing it because of the shutdown. If it rains another inch in the next few days, Foster said, the stream will overrun the trap, sending loads of garbage into the woods.)

Styrofoam is difficult to recycle, barely biodegradable and its remnants often end up in waterways. But it’s also a better insulator than paper, comparatively inexpensive and still quite popular in the food service industry.

We’ve reached out to the the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington for a comment, but have not heard back.

“Foam products are lightweight, sturdy, inexpensive and insulated,” according to the website FoamFacts.com, an affiliate of Dart Container Corporation. It offers the best value, per that site, that makes up less than 1 percent by both weight and volume of landfill waste.

It’s a taste of the foam fight to come.

Gray’s environmental legislative package includes eight bills.

In addition to the Styrofoam ban, there’s a requirement that medium and large D.C. businesses provide transit benefits to their minimum wage-eligible employees, a tax credit for converting traditional fuel engines to alternative fuel, a credit for installing cleaner fueling stations, an amended tree replacement program, a utility benchmarking update, a youth environmental literacy program and a requirement that D.C.’s Department of the Environment engage the public on its sustainability efforts.

© 2013 American City Business Journals, Inc.