While some members of the Portland, Maine, Committee on Transportation, Sustainability, and Energy met on Wednesday, March 19, to discuss the proposed polystyrene foam ban, several city leaders joined the conversation to specifically oppose the ordinance. The proposed ban – which was first introduced by City Councilor Ed Suslovic in 2012 – would prohibit restaurants and other businesses within the city from using polystyrene foam materials.1 Banning polystyrene foam items, which are often mistakenly referred to as Styrofoam®, a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company, would mean a ban on the takeout containers and hot beverage cups many local businesses depend on daily and consumers prefer.
In attendance at the committee meeting was the city’s Green Packaging Working Group (GPWG), which strongly opposed the ban and represents many of Portland’s local business owners such as Barbara Anania of Anania markets. Anania expressed concerns that the committee is not looking out for the city’s small business owners, commenting that “sometimes Portland seems like it doesn’t support small businesses, nickel and diming them for feel-good measures.”2 Most local business owners oppose the ordinance because of the concern that switching to a foam alternative will increase their costs of doing business. One owner of a local Dunkin’ Donuts franchise claimed that his product cost would increase by about $10,000 per year should the ban take effect.1 While the idea of the ban was originally proposed as a way to reduce the amount of litter within the city, the GPWG says that ordinance is flawed because it would, in fact, increase costs for business owners while doing nothing to reduce the amount of litter in Portland.2
Another concern with the proposed ban in Portland is the impact it might have on the local seafood industry. An initial draft of the city ordinance was changed to include a note that companies within the seafood industry would be exempt and allowed to continue using polystyrene foam because there is no proven alternative when dealing with fresh seafood.2 The idea that some industries would be allowed to continue the use of the preferred material but not others did not sit well with Anania, as she noted that the committee is “[saying] it’s okay for the fisherman to continue to use polystyrene but not the fish stores? You want to ban a product but not really get rid of it.”2
This economic burden associated with banning foam in Portland could be avoided altogether with the implementation of a recycling program specific to polystyrene products. Dart Container Corporation, a manufacturer of foam foodservice products, has developed programs within several cities throughout the U.S. to responsibly dispose of foam materials. Dart’s CARE (Cups Are REcyclable) Program, for example, provides participants with a device to compress collected foam cups to a fraction of their original size. The compressed material is then sent to a manufacturer that recycles the mass into new consumer products, eliminating the foam waste altogether.