Looking Back at Save the Bay’s Win Against Polystyrene

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Last semester, MaryPIRG’s Save the Bay campaign, a group of students focused on eliminating waste in local habitats, succeeded in helping to pass a statewide bill to phase out the use of polystyrene (commonly known as “Styrofoam”) cups and containers after many semesters of campaigning. The petition tables students organized and volunteered at in the freezing cold each week and calls and emails to representatives paid off when House Bill 0109/Senate Bill B285 was passed in the Maryland General Assembly, effectively banning expanded polystyrene food service products, across the state of Maryland. 

Polystyrene is harmful to the environment as it adds more plastic into landfills, and eventually our ecosystems and waterways. It’s is made of many chemicals, including styrene which is a neurotoxin and is closely linked to cancer, which can have a detrimental effect on both wildlife and public health. People who live and work in environments with high concentrations of styrene have higher instances of cancer, neurological issues, headaches, depression, fatigue, and more.

Reducing polystyrene use in the community will greatly help reduce the amount of plastic entering waterways, including the Chesapeake Bay, which has already faced many issues with pollution in the past. Students in the Save the Bay campaign advocated for the passage of this bill by mobilizing other students to write letters and sign petitions sent to state representatives, and also spread awareness about the issue by screening a documentary on the impact of plastic, hosting photo petition drives where other students could post their photos to educate their followers, and through other methods. Gaining support on campus and in the surrounding community from on campus and off campus groups, Save the Bay created a coalition with significant people power and a wide reach. 

The Save the Bay campaign collected petitions signatures from over 1,500 students at the University of Maryland – College Park in support of the ban. In addition to helping spread awareness and gain support for the ban, MaryPIRG communicated with local businesses and presented them with alternatives for plastic straws. Rather than create more trash and continue a practice that is unsustainable and destroying the place we call home, the polystyrene ban phases out a harmful material and makes real change. 

Based on Save the Bay’s model to take action on environmental issues and get results using a variety of tactics, MaryPIRG has began work on a new campaign, Fossil-Free UMD. Fossil-Free UMD coordinators and volunteers are working to gain support from the campus community to reduce fossil fuel use on campus. Overall, MaryPIRG has made great strides to not only improve the life of students on our campus, but also to help improve the quality of the world around us. Together as a campus, we can reduce our negative impact on the world and make a more positive change.