September 16, 2013

Polystyrene foam ban in Portland: Council may vote

By Edward D. Murphy
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - A controversial ban on the use of polystyrene foam products -- often used as food and drink containers -- could come up for a vote by the Portland City Council on Monday.

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A ban on polystyrene foam products is being considered in Portland.

The Associated Press

The proposal has been in the works for months, since a task force looking at ways to reduce litter and the city's waste stream proposed the ban late this spring.

Manufacturers of the product and many restaurants, fast food chains and grocers have come out against the ban, saying it's based on faulty assumptions and will increase costs to businesses and consumers. Among the faulty assumptions they cite are that recycling polystyrene would be impractical and that the cost of alternative paper or fiberboard containers would not be too expensive.

Gov. Paul LePage wrote the council this summer to oppose the ban as "European-style" policy and a "nanny state" approach. His letter was signed by Maine hospitality industry groups and the Cost of Government Center, a group affiliated with the anti-tax Americans for Tax Reform group, headed by Grover Norquist.

Proponents of a ban say that polystyrene foam accounts for too much of the city's waste stream and litter, and that recycling is costly and impractical. Polystyrene can take decades to decompose, and the ban's advocates say that it's hazardous to marine life if it gets in the ocean.

Nationally, more than 100 cities and counties have banned the product and advocates are pushing for more, focusing now on larger cities such as New York and Chicago.

But the polystyrene industry, led by Dart Industries, has fought back, encouraging recycling as an alternative to bans. Its website lists recycling efforts, with the University of Michigan and the Girl Scouts joining that effort in recent weeks.

A city committee, the Green Packaging Working Group, proposed the ban after studying the issue for months. But a subgroup made up of business representatives on the panel issued a minority report, saying the group's process was flawed and the economic analysis it conducted was poorly conceived.

Shelley Doak, executive director of the Maine Grocers Association, wrote to the City Council last week, saying the working group's makeup seemed stacked in favor of a ban.

Doak said she was "troubled by the imbalanced composition of the task force" and that "the majority of the members seemed predisposed to prepare an ordinance to ban the sale and use of polystyrene products" in Portland without considering less drastic alternatives.

Doak said polystyrene is cheaper for businesses and that the ban would hurt grocers.

The council will take up the proposed polystyrene ban after it considers a proposal to sell a section of Congress Square Plaza to the owners of an adjacent hotel to use as an events center. That plan has triggered protests in recent weeks by those opposed to selling off open space downtown.

The council meeting will begin at 7 p.m. Monday in its chambers at Portland City Hall.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:


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