Published Date Written by Craig LyonsA city task force moved closer to banning polystyrene containers in Portland Monday despite questions about the process the group has taken.
The Polystyrene and Green Packaging Task Force held its second meeting to talk about a ban on polystyrene containers with the intention to make a recommendation on the final language on the proposed ordinance in April — despite objections from the Portland Community Chamber, the Maine Restaurant Association, Dart Container Corporation, the Retail Association of Maine, the Maine Grocers Association and the American Chemistry Council regarding the group's charge to draft a polystyrene ban.
Councilor Ed Suslovic, who is the chairman of the task force, aimed to have the group get a consensus vote on the draft language for the ban during the two-hour meeting but that aim was derailed by members who wanted more information or still had questions about some of the wording.
"Before the city acts to affect these businesses in an adverse way, there must be a sound process and information supporting this action, including some basic economic impact information," read the letter submitted by the six groups. "The task force's decisions must be grounded in a legitimate process for the public to have full confidence in the task force's ultimate decisions."
The group's letter felt that there was little information informing the task force's work and that it should seek out other ways to curb problems like litter through other solutions aside from only considering a product ban.
Suslovic said the group was tasked with making a recommendation on a proposed polystyrene ban and it's possible that the majority might not be in favor of the product prohibition. He said a minority report can also be submitted to the council once the task force's work concludes.
Despite process objections, the task force discussed the draft ordinance that would prohibit a retail food vendor from serving or selling prepared food on polystyrene service ware; not allow food packagers who offer products for retail sale to use the material; and keep the city and groups doing work with the city from using polystyrene food containers. The ordinance allows for prepackaged foods in polystyrene containers to be sold.
Steve Rosorio, of the American Chemical Council, said the city should redo the preamble of the ordinance as it contains many factual errors.
"You can't isolate and be myopic about polystyrene," he said, and that every type of packaging has negative aspects about its use.
While looking at the draft language, the committee saw a survey conducted by city staff that showed some businesses are already phasing out the use of polystyrene containers.
The survey showed that 54 percent of those interviewed used cardboard and paper products and 41 percent used polystyrene, according to a memo, and, of those, 37 percent used compostable materials, 29 percent use non-polystyrene plastic, and 25 percent use aluminum containers and foil. The reflects reflected that some establishments surveyed used multiple types of containers.
The reasons behind restaurants' choice of containers included cost, environmental concerns, effectiveness of the product and customer demand and presentation.
For restaurants that relied on polystyrene containers, they were asked if the impact would be of switching to another type of containers, according to a memo, and 50 percent said there would be an impact, 10 percent said no and 40 percent weren't sure.
The survey respondents suggested several ways for the city to help businesses make the transition to another type of product, if polystyrene is banned, according to a memo. The suggestions included tax subsidies or breaks to help businesses make the transition or give breaks to companies no longer using the material for food service, and asking the city to sponsor a recycling education program.
Twenty percent of the business said they would feel little impact from the change and 60 percent reported they would feel a moderate impact. The remaining 20 percent wanted to better research the potential impact of the ban.