PORTLAND — As the volunteer president of the Portland Community Chamber, I’d like to offer a few thoughts about the city’s proposed ordinance that would ban polystyrene containers.

Generally, the Portland Community Chamber engages issues at City Hall only when they impact jobs, growth and prosperity.

Earlier this year we became aware that a task force at City Hall was looking at the possibility of banning the commercial use of certain plastic materials.

Because of the possible economic impacts of a ban on widely used commercial packaging, the chamber’s board of directors asked our staff to track the issue.

Polystyrene is a safe, cost-effective product, according to our members who use it on a daily basis.

Businesses use foam packaging because it is practical, sanitary, inexpensive and convenient.

Based on responses from our members as news of the pending ban spreads, we expect more and more businesses will emerge to object.

Hospitals, coffee shops, grocers, restaurants — the users of foam containers are everywhere.

To be clear, we understand that some people have raised questions about plastics in our waste stream, and we do not dismiss those questions lightly.

However, we do believe there are three reasons to reject the proposed ban at this point in time.

• First, as requested, our staff has followed the development of the proposed ordinance to ban the use of polystyrene containers.

Any proposed ban should be firmly supported by an empirical analysis of costs versus benefits for Portland’s consumers, businesses and environment.

Unfortunately, based on the record before the council today, the case supporting a ban is missing. Without a credible demonstration of net benefit to Portland, the ban remains premature.

• Second, we think state and federal regulators are better able than city officials to judge the impacts of polystyrene on the economy and the environment.

Evaluating the environmental and economic impacts of a packaging materials ban is a sophisticated and difficult task. The federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection have yet to take this type of action.

With genuine respect for our City Council and staff, we believe this is a question that deserves a far more specialized review than the council can possibly make available.

• Third, we encourage the Portland City Council to stay focused on the most important things — growth and prosperity in our community.

Environmental policies are important, and at times the city will have a compelling need to legislate in this arena.

But council members and the city’s staff have limited hours in the year, and we feel their time is best spent working on the core issues of prosperity and growth.

For all these reasons, we urge the city to postpone enactment of the proposed ban on polystyrene containers. Banning the product now would be a mistake for Portland.

• Finally, we believe Portland should not become a regulatory outlier. Communities that choose to be more restrictive than neighboring municipalities put themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

Given that Portland already is an expensive city by many measures, adding to that distinction makes no sense.

While the increased cost of taking out a Portland lobster roll in a non-polystyrene package won’t by itself prohibit someone from living, working or running a business here, it all adds up and gives us an unnecessary image as an over-regulated place in which to live and work.

Portland is doing well. Population is increasing. Cranes are in the air. The planning and development process has improved.

We have worked together on crime, homelessness, panhandling, graffiti and job creation.

From our perspective, these are the issues that deserve our continued attention, because much work remains to be done.

Worries about polystyrene are best left to state and federal officials, who have the ability and the charge to weigh environmental and economic factors and make informed decisions about what belongs in the stream of commerce and what should be banned.

Our City Council is at its best making Portland a safer, cleaner, better educated and more prosperous community.

We urge councilors to reject the polystyrene ban and use their time to do what they do best — keep making Portland an even stronger, more dynamic city.

Things like banning polystyrene should be put aside.

 

Bill Becker is volunteer president of the Portland Community Chamber.