ANNAPOLIS, Md. – In a victory for environmental groups, Maryland on Thursday becomes the first state in the nation to ban foam food containers. The new law prevents restaurants, schools and other places that serve food from using polystyrene or Styrofoam cups and containers, or face a $250 fine.

Kate Briemman, state director for the group Environment Maryland, said the move is a major step forward for a cleaner Earth. She pointed out that polystyrene is difficult to recycle, and is one of the most common and hazardous forms of single-use plastic.

“The thing about it that’s really troubling is that it never goes away,” she said. “It breaks up into these little, teeny polystyrene bits that end up in our water, in our wildlife. And at this point, we’re seeing a growing body of research that says even humans are showing this presence of micro-plastic.”

The Maryland Retailers Association, which represents restaurants, is opposed to the ban. In a statement, it said the state should invest in equipment that can recycle polystyrene instead. It also pointed out that alternative products are more costly, so the law is likely to raise prices for diners, which could hurt business during the pandemic.

Briemann said Maryland’s new law, which was passed in 2019, leads the way for other states to reduce what she called their over-reliance on single-use plastic. Since the 1970s, she said, more and more plastic has been produced, causing serious environmental consequences when much of it ends up in landfills or waterways.

“There’s a study that showed that in just one year, in just America, we threw out 25 billion polystyrene foam cups. Just cups, not clamshells,” she said. “And you think about the fact that, of the polystyrene that even is recyclable, maybe 3% of it gets recycled.”

Just last week, the New Jersey Legislature passed what some are calling one of the strictest anti-plastic laws in the nation, banning polystyrene products and plastic bags. In Maine, that state’s polystyrene ban goes into effect in January.

The text of the Maryland law, Senate Bill 285, is online at