2017-09-01 / Front Page

Foam ban: Cape follows suit

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH – This spring and summer, the town’s ordinance committee has looked at drafting ordinance language to follow a recycling committee recommendation and ban polystyrene foam and regulate plastic bags. A decision on the topic is expected soon.

Polystyrene foam is defined in the draft ordinance as “blown polystyrene and expanded and extruded foam (sometimes incorrectly called Styrofoam, a Dow Chemical Company trademarked of polystyrene foam insulation) … “generally used to make cups, bowls, plates, trays, clamshell containers, meat trays and egg cartons.” Such materials used by food establishments and retail vendors, if the ordinance passes, will have to be replaced with “reusable, compostable or recyclable alternatives.”

The topic of looking into banning the foam and imposing a fee for using non reusable bags was listed among the town council’s goals for 2016. The recycling committee led the early charge, before recommending bans to the council, which passed it to the ordinance committee for review in December 2016.

“We were charged by the town council in 2016 to look at plastic bag ban in Cape Elizabeth. We looked at the existing ordinances in our neighboring towns and that’s where the other pieces came into play,” said Kara Lavender Law, chairman of the town’s recycling committee.

“It eliminates unnecessary plastic waste and hard to recycle items. Plastic bags are notorious for being tough to recycle and they gum up the sorting equipment at ecomaine,” she continued, explaining the need for such a ban.

Town councilor Patty Grennon, chairman of the ordinance committee, said the goal of the proposed ordinance to regulate retailers’ use of the foam product and plastic bags is threefold

“Besides it being an effort to be more sustainable and being better stewards for our community (the recycling committee) felt like the recycling and waste reduction was leveling off, so this is really the logical next step for our community to reduce waste,” Grennon said.

Other communities around Cape Elizabeth have already made a change away from polystyrene foam.

Beginning in April 2015, all food packagers and establishments that prepare food such as restaurants, food trucks and cafeterias, as well as convenience stores and grocery stores in the city of Portland were banned from using, or selling polystyrene foam products. A similar ban in South Portland went into effect March 1, 2016, forcing food service establishment to use food packaging materials that are “environmentally friendly and easily recyclable and/or compostable materials such as paper, bioplastics and/or rigid plastics.”

South Portland Sustainability Director Julie Rosenbach said the foam ban has gone well over the last year and a half.

“It’s going really, really well,” she said.

Occasionally she will hear from residents who have visited a place that is out of compliance, but it doesn’t take long for her to straighten out the issue.

“I haven’t had any problems with it. Sometimes I have to follow up, but people are usually very cooperative,” she said.

It is likely the Cape Elizabeth Town Council will follow suit and pass a similar ban in town. Law said the proposed ordinance language is modeled after the ordinances in South Portland and Portland, but tweaked to meet Cape Elizabeth’s needs.

“Polystyrene foam pollutes the environment by breaking into small balls that are difficult to pick up and are transported by the wind,” read a draft memorandum from the ordinance committee to the town council. “Styrene and benzene, which are components of polystyrene foam, are carcinogenic. There are good alternatives to polystyrene and many businesses have already transitioned to more environmentally friendly packaging.”

The ordinance states retailers cannot serve or sell food or beverages in polystyrene foam containers nor can they sell polystyrene foam food or beverage containers to customers. The town is also barred from using or selling the product. The ordinance, if passed, however, would permit the use of polystyrene foam for seafood shipments and in the case of an emergency.

A number of communities across southern Maine, including Brunswick, Falmouth, Freeport, Kennebunk, Portland, Saco, South Portland, Topsham, Windham and York have regulated plastic and paper bags, many imposing a 5 cent fee to a customer everytime one isused.

Imposing a fee of 5 cents per every single use carryout bag – typically the plastic or paper bags at checkout – used by a customer is being recommended by the recycling committee to help reduce the amount of waste generated in the community as single use bags are generally thrown away because they are difficult to recycle. The nickel fee would not apply to “bags on a roll” that are used to package meats and fresh produce or bags that are provided by pharmacists for prescription drugs. The ordinance is meant to encourage the use of reusable bags that have a minimum life of 75 uses and can carry a minimum of 18 pounds.

The fee would apply to single use carryout bags used at retail establishments such as grocery stores, convenience stores, drug stores and farm stands. It would not apply to stores where food sales is less than two percent of gross sales.

The draft ordinance states all money collected by the store for single use carryout bags “may be used by the store for any lawful purpose.”

Law said recycling committee member Matthew Faulkner was “heavily involved with the ordinances in Portland and South Portland” and bringing that approach to Cape Elizabeth.

“He recognized the importance of getting businesses on board. He single handedly visited every, or almost every, establishment that would be impacted,” Law said. “By and large most businesses are fully in compliance with the (proposed) regulations already. The other businesses were supportive.”

The topic is expected to be before the council in September. How the group deals with it is not known at this point.

“Right now, it is under review by the town attorney. If all looks good, it will go through town council consideration in September,” Grennon said. “At that point we will decide if it will go to workshop or it if makes sense to send it out to a public hearing.”

Changes to the proposed ordinance may be made as a result of either the workshop or public hearing, but Grennon feels regulating polystyrene foam and single use bags is the right step for Cape Elizabeth.

“It is a great direction for Cape Elizabeth in that people can still get single use bags if they want. It’s more sustainable and at the same time it reduces waste,” she said.

“We are really looking forward to seeing what the reception is for this,” Law said, adding Cape Elizabeth is not trying to be a trend-setter, but rather stay ahead of the curve.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at 282-4337, ext. 237.

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