Plastic Reduction Law

Starting January 1, 2022, certain single-use drinking straws and beverage stirrers (which will be referred to throughout this page as plastic straws and stirrers), certain condiment packets and certain food ware (such as plastic utensils, containers and lids) can no longer be distributed or sold at food service facilities within Howard County. However, individuals can still receive these items upon request. Paper, home compostable and reusable items are permitted. Retail businesses cannot sell or distribute single use plastic straws or stirrers unless paper or reusable straws or stirrers are also available for purchase in the same location. This page describes the legislation and provides guidance for implementation.  

Legislation

Click the link below to view the Howard County single-use plastic reduction legislation.  

Howard County bill CB13-2021 

Definitions

food service facility is a place where food or drink is prepared for sale or service on the premises or elsewhere; or an operation where food is served to or provided for the public with or without charge, as defined in 12.107 of the Howard County Code. Please see the full definition here.

A retail business is a business other than a food service facility that sells goods directly to ultimate consumers.  

Plastic food ware are items that are made from material that is at least 50% derived from a petroleum based polymer or a plant-based polymer, including polylactic acid (PLA).  

What This Means for Businesses and Customers

As of January 1, 2022, food service facilities will no longer be permitted to sell or distribute plastic straws, stirrers, utensils and other food ware to customers unless specifically requested. Food service facilities will need to stop providing these materials or provide substitutes, such as paper, home compostable or reusable materials. Food service facilities should keep a small supply of plastic straws for customers who request them or as necessary, to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act or other law requiring accommodations for individuals with disabilities. Retail businesses cannot sell or distribute single use plastic straws or stirrers unless paper or reusable straws or stirrers are also available for purchase in the same location.   

Prohibited Plastic Items FOR FOOD SERVICE FACILITIES

  • Plastic straws
  • Plastic stirrers
  • Plastic hot beverage cups
  • Plastic cold beverage cups
  • Plastic single use cutlery
  • Plastic plates
  • Plastic bowls
  • Plastic bowl lids
  • Plastic trays
  • Plastic clamshell food containers
  • Plastic condiment packages
  • Other plastic hinged or lidded containers

ALlowable Items FOR FOOD SERVICE FACILITIES

  • Straws or stirrers made from paper, bamboo or other material labeled as home compostable under section 9-2102 of the Environmental Article of the Maryland Code
  • Straws, stirrers, or food ware marketed as reusable
  • Prepackaged beverages received by food service facility with a straw/stirrer already attached
  • Food related bags or wrappers including but not limited to plastic film, chip bags, cracker and cookie wrappers, bread bags, meal kits, or ice bags
  • Beverage related bottles or cartons
  • Packaging for unprepared food
  • Packaging for wholesale distribution of prepared food, baked goods or dairy products
  • Non-plastic cups, plates or bowls with a polyethylene or other plastic coating or wax coating
  • Containers of condiments that are filled on-site at a food service facility
  • Products encased in or attached to plastic food ware that are prepackaged before being received by a food service facility
  • Plastic cup lids

Prohibited Plastic ITEMS Exceptions

  • The prohibited items listed above (not including straws or stirrers) may be distributed at a hospital, nursing home, continuing care and assisted living facility, residential rehabilitation facility or other healthcare facility with no restriction. Straws and stirrers may be distributed upon request.
  • Plastic condiment packages or plastic food ware can be made available in the self-service areas of food service facilities.
  • For drive-through sales, plastic straws, stirrers, food ware and condiment packets can be provided upon request. Alternatively, plastic food ware may be provided without a request only if there is reasonable and permanent signage that identifies the different plastic food items being distributed with the sale.
  • Plastic straws and stirrers can be sold at retail businesses only if paper or reusable alternatives are also available for purchase in the same location. No other items listed above are restricted at retail businesses.
  • Plastic straws and stirrers may be distributed at any food service facility to any individual who specifically requests one or comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act or other law that requires accommodations for those with disabilities.

Enforcement

The single-use plastic reduction law, CB13-2021, states that enforcement begins on July 1, 2022. Until that time, Howard County will focus on business and customer education. The law allows for fines and penalties if violations continue. Residents can notify Howard County government about a non-compliant food service facility or retail store by emailing reduceplastic@howardcountymd.gov. 

Guidance 

There are different rules for food service facilities and retail businesses. There are also different rules for straws/stirrers versus the other plastic items. This section of the webpage intends to clarify some of these aspects. 

Food Service Facilities 

Food service facilities include: restaurants, coffee shops, cafeterias, sandwich stands, soda fountains etc. Please click here to determine if your business is in this category.

Bars that do not serve food are considered food service facilities because the state code definition includes food or drink. 

Straws & Stirrers–  

On-Premise: 

Food service facilities can no longer automatically give out plastic straws and stirrers. 

Plastic straws and stirrers may be provided upon customer request. Food service facilities should keep a small amount of straws on site, for requests made by people with disabilities.  

Some alternatives to plastic straws are paper straws, reusable metal straws, and strawless cup lids. 

Pickup, Delivery and Online Orders:  

Do not place straws or stirrers in to-go bags or alongside orders unless specifically requested at the counter or over the phone.  

For online orders, a food service facility may add an opt-in option for straws or stirrers, or a comment section for customers to request a straw or stirrer if they need one.  

Drive-through:  

Plastic straws or stirrers may be requested at a drive through. Paper straws or stirrers may be distributed automatically. 

Plastic Food Ware and Disposable Plastic Condiment Packets– 

On-Premise: 

Food service facilities should find alternatives for the prohibited plastic items. Some alternatives to single-use plastic include paper, bamboo, or reusable cups, bowls, plates, utensils and trays.  

Consider putting condiments in reusable containers and refilling. Condiment packets in disposable plastic may only be given out upon request. 

Self service areas in a food service facility are exempt from the prohibition on plastic food ware and disposable plastic condiment packets. While plastic items are allowed without request in these areas, a food service facility may switch to paper or other sustainable materials for the positive environmental impact. 

Reminder: even in self service areas, straws must still be requested. 

Pick Up, Delivery and Online Orders 

Plastic utensils and condiment packets should not be automatically included with orders. Because many customers ordering food to go will be eating it at home, this avoids unnecessary plastic distribution to customers who already have utensils and condiments at home.  

Some alternatives to plastic utensils include bamboo or home compostable materials or not supplying utensils at all unless requested.  

Plastic bowls, bowl lids, cups, plates, trays, and clamshell containers should be replaced with paper, compostable, reusable or other non-plastic alternatives. See example pictures below. 

Plastic cup lids are still permitted. 

Remember that polystyrene (commonly known as Styrofoam™) products were banned by the State of Maryland.

For online orders, food service facilities may create a comment section for requests or add an opt-in check box for utensils (plastic or sustainable) and condiment packets.  

Drive-through 

Requests are needed for straws, stirrers and condiment packets. All other items can be provided without request if there is permanent signage listing the distributed items.  By seeing this sign, customers have the option to opt out of receiving condiments or plastic ware they do not need and will just throw away. 

Retail Businesses

Examples of retail establishments impacted by CB13-2021 may include grocery stores, convenience stores, and departments stores (such as Target and Walmart).  

Retail businesses can sell plastic cups, plates and other plastic items without restriction.  

Retail businesses can sell or distribute plastic straws or stirrers ONLY if they also sell reusable or paper straws.  

Additional Clarification 

 a supermarket shopping area is considered a retail business and therefore follows the restrictions for retail businesses.  

– a supermarket hot and cold bar is considered self-service within a food service facility, and therefore can have plastic items available without request (however plastic straws/stirrers must still be requested).  

Plastic Alternatives  

glass straws, metal straws, paper straws, metal condiment cup, refillable condiment bottles, bamboo cutlery, paper cup, paper bowl, paper to go container, tin foil to-go container

What Exactly Is Home Compostable?

Home compostable is defined in the MD Code Environment Article Section 9-2102.

Howard County’s Feed the Green Bin program accepts home compostable materials, as well as additional items as described here. 

Questions

Please email questions to reduceplastic@howardcountymg.gov. Email is the best way to get questions answered. You can also call the Office of Community Sustainability at 410-313-0700.