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City task force endorses polystyrene foam ban

A City Council-created task force on Monday endorsed a proposed ordinance that would ban polystyrene containers in Portland.
The Polystyrene and Green Packaging Task Force voted 9-6 to send the proposed polystyrene prohibition to the Transportation Sustainability and Energy Committee. The ban would prohibit vendors from selling or serving food in polystyrene containers and the retail sale of the material.
The six members of the group who voted against the ordinance will draft a dissenting opinion to accompany endorsement.
The proposed ordinance endorsed by the task force 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 polystrene containers to be sold.
The ordinance includes exemptions based on undue hardship and in the incident of an emergency situation.
The draft language states that the ban, if enacted, will take effect in July 2015.
During the group's discussion on the ordinance, the task force amended the language to include provision for a recycling program exemption, and a pre-emption clause.
Matt Fisher, who represents Dart Container Corporation, proposed the two amendments. He said the exemption would mean that if the city found an effective polystyrene recycling program, the ban would become null and void; the language was taken from Freeport's ordinance.
"It's a very simple concept," he said.
Fisher's second amendment would nullify the Portland ban if comparable statewide legislation was approved. If the state passes, and later rescinds, a polystyrene ban, Portland's ordinance would once again take effect.
The proposed ordinance will now go to the Transportation Sustainability and Energy Committee for review, likely in June, before being presented to the full City Council.
With its work on the polystyrene ban finished, the task force will now explore the issue of minimizing waste that's created by plastic bags.
City Councilor Ed Suslovic said they can explore any option they see fit whether that's a ban, fees, a deposit system or education. He said there are a lot of people who want to cut down on the number of plastic bags that show up where they aren't supposed to be, like in the street, in the water and in the sewer system.
"I see evidence of a problem everywhere," he said.
To kick off the plastic bag discussion, the committee heard from Casco Bay High School freshman Josh Dow, who talked about his project on reducing the waste from the bags.
Dow said he developed a proposal to create incentives for recycling plastic bags by having a deposit system, much like what's used for bottles and cans. He said he looked at other options, including a ban and using bogs that are made using vegetable oil, making them 92 percent biodegradable.
Dow said a plastic bag takes 1,000 years to biodegrade.
"It is a monumental problem," he said.

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