Published Date Written by Craig LyonsAs a city-appointed working group began looking at the potential for banning polystyrene foam containers, cost was a point of discussion among the members.
The city's Green Packaging Working Group began its work on Monday — which includes possible ordinances that would ban foam containers and limit the availability of plastic bags — and two perspectives on cost were presented: How the ban would impact businesses and how it's not financially feasible for the city to recycle the material.
City Councilor Ed Suslovic, who is the chairman of the working group, said the council has tasked the group with developing an ordinance that would ban the sale of polystyrene foam containers in Portland for food. The city took up the prospective ban in order to reduce waste and lessen the material's impact on the environment, according to Suslovic.
Ron Adams, of the Portland Public School System, said the schools were prompted to stop using foam containers because people didn't want their children being served food on them. He said the price is much higher with paper containers because a foam one cost about 3 cents and paper can cost up to 12 cents per unit.
There's a huge financial impact, Adams said, but the added investment is made up by the money that's being saved from trash hauling costs.
Danny Bouzianis, a Dunkin Donuts franchise owner, said switching the stores over to only paper cups would increase costs by $10,000 a year. He said if a customer wants their coffee in a paper cup, they can ask for it in one.
Bouzianis said there's more than a cost difference between the two types of cups. At Dunkin Donuts, paper cups are used for drinks like lattes because they are served at 140-160 degrees; a black coffee is served at a higher temperature, at least 190 degrees, in a foam cup, he said, because foam has better heat retention and insulation.
Richard Grotton, of the Maine Restaurant Association, said foam containers are used primarily for takeout because it does a better job preserving food items' temperatures. He said the containers keep cold food cold, hot food hot and is less expensive for businesses.
Grotton said it's more than just the price that dissuades some places from using other types of containers because foam offers an optimal option for food packaging.
Barbara Anania said, during public comment, that Anania's invested $10,000 in order to buy 150,000 custom Styrofoam cups in January 2012, which gave the business a two and a half year supply. She said if the ban takes effect soon, the store will have to absorb the cost of cups they can't use.
With the ban in place, Anania said the business will have to spend about 8 or 10 cents a cup and that will likely get passed onto the consumer.
"We can't keep adding costs onto the consumers," she said.
Bouzianis asked why the city couldn't recycle the foam containers instead of putting those containers into the waste stream.
John Morin, of Ecomaine, said Portland doesn't recycle Styrofoam because it's not cost effective. He said because the material lacks density, Ecomaine can't achieve the volume that's needed to make shipping it to a processor work.
"There's no market up here in New England," he said.
Alan Zimmerman, of Portland, said, during public comment, the assumptions about Styrofoam containers aren't the same as they were a decade ago. He said the containers no longer contain CFCs and other carcinogens.
Even though the material doesn't biodegrade, Zimmerman said, when it's burned as waste — which is done in Portland — it leaves behind only a liquid residue and not ash.
Zimmerman said he works in the paper products and container industry and said banning foam containers would increase costs for local businesses. He said paper containers are eight to 10 times more expensive than foam containers.
Suslovic said he plans on having the group vote on the language for a potential ban on Styrofoam as soon as its next meeting in April.
The second part of the group's charge is to look at ways to limit the use of plastic bags, and that will be taken up once work is completed on the polystyrene foam container ordinance.