May 7, 2013

Portland moves toward ban on Styrofoam packaging

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Next month, political leaders in Maine's largest city will consider implementing a ban on the commercial use of all polystyrene packaging -- better known by the brand name Styrofoam.

Members of a special task force, which was created by the Portland City Council earlier this year, voted 9-6 Monday night in favor of a ban.

The task force, which is called the Green Packaging Working Group, also indicated at its meeting that it will consider banning or charging a fee for plastic grocery bags.

But the group's focus during a 90-minute discussion was on polystyrene, a non-biodegradable, petroleum-based product that is not easily recycled. Plastic packaging is one of the most common forms of litter in Portland and polystyrene contains a chemical that poses serious environmental and public health risks, according to the city's website.

The city says recycling polystyrene is expensive, and that forces it to be placed in landfills. Portland's proposed ban is being modeled after one enacted in 1990 by the town of Freeport.

The next step in the approval process is for members of the City Council's Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee to review the proposal at its June 19 meeting.

If the committee endorses a ban on polystyrene cups and food packaging, the ordinance will be brought before the City Council for final adoption. An attorney for the city said the earliest date the ban could take effect would be July 1, 2015. City Councilor Edward Suslovic, who chairs the task force, said the six dissenting members will be allowed to submit a minority report to the City Council before any final actions are taken.

On a separate matter, Josh Dow, a 15-year-old freshman at Casco Bay High School, suggested the city consider establishing a return program -- similar to bottle returns -- for plastic grocery bags.

Dow said people who returned plastic bags would be compensated and that "panhandlers" could earn money and keep the city clean by picking up bags off city streets and sidewalks.

Task force members said they would consider Dow's idea as well as possibly levying a fee for people to purchase plastic grocery bags or even adopting an outright ban.

"The time seems to be right to consider a ban or imposing a fee for plastic grocery bags," said Michelle Brooks, a Portland resident who serves on the task force.

Suslovic said any action regarding plastic grocery bags would have to be taken at a future meeting.

"The City Council is feeling the pressure to do something," Suslovic said. "There are too many plastic bags littering our streets, sidewalks, and most troubling of all, our waterways."

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

 

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