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Brookline mulls banning Styrofoam cups and plastic bags

Posted by Brock Parker  September 24, 2012 09:28 AM

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A cup of coffee served at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Great Barrington Massachusetts earlier this year could soon lead to a Styrofoam ban in Brookline.

A proposal that will go before Brookline’s Special Town Meeting in November is aiming to prohibit the use of disposable polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam, containers used to package food and beverages.

A separate article on the agenda for the meeting would also prohibit stores from providing disposable plastic check out bags to customers.

The proposals come on the heels of a water bottle ban passed by Concord Town Meeting in April and approved by Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office earlier this month.

Brookline Town Meeting member Nancy Heller proposed the ban on polystyrene containers after she stopped in a Dunkin’ Donuts in Great Barrington earlier this year and was served coffee in a paper cup. Heller said she asked why she didn’t get the usual Styrofoam cup, and was informed of a bylaw enacted in Great Barrington in 1990 that prohibits the use of polystyrene containers to package food and beverages.

Inspired by the Great Barrington law, Heller did her own research on the polystyrene containers and learned of health and environmental concerns that prompted her to propose a similar Styrofoam ban in Brookline.

“No more morning Joe in Styrofoam cups for me,” Heller said.

Her proposal, which could affect everything from the way coffee is served to the packaging for take out at local restaurants, will go before a Special Town Meeting scheduled to start on Nov. 13.

The proposal to ban retailers from providing customers with disposable plastic checkout bags was submitted separately by Jessica Arconti, a 25-year-old biologist who recently moved from Brookline to Colorado.

Arconti said she’s concerned about the poor bio-degradability of the disposable plastic bags given out by local grocery stores and pharmacies. The bags have a negative effect on the environment, she said, and in her travels to other countries Arconti said she noticed stores already using corn-based bio-degradable bags.

Before she moved out of state, Arconti said she gathered enough signatures to place an article on the Brookline Town Meeting warrant that would require any retail establishments that provides checkout bags to customers to use compostable, marine degradable bags instead of disposable plastic bags. Reusable checkout bags and recyclable paper bags could also be used.

Stores that violate the plastic bag ban would face a $50 fine for the first offense, $100 for the second offense, and a third offense would result in a mandatory court appearance under Arconti’s proposal.

Heller said environmental concerns also played a role in her proposal to ban polystyrene packaging in the town. While Styrofoam can be recycled, Heller said the process is cumbersome and residents in Brookline can not put their Styrofoam containers in with the other recyclable materials that are picked up by the town. Instead, she said Brookline residents wishing to recycle Styrofoam must take it to the Department of Public Works on special drop-off days each year.

An active Town Meeting member in Brookline, Heller co-sponsored a nuisance bylaw that was approved in 2010 and allows police to fine party hosts and guests for loud parties.

Her proposed ban on polystyrene containers would only prevent food and beverages from being packaged on the premises of any food service establishment in Brookline. Food products packaged outside of the town would be allowed. If approved, the ban would take effect on Dec. 1 of 2013.

In addition to her environmental concerns about Styrofoam, Heller said she’s concerned that in the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, added styrene to a list of materials that are reasonably anticipated to be carcinogens.

Styrene is used to make polystyrenes, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services added the substance to its 2011 Report on Carcinogens, according to the federal agency. Styrene can leach from the containers into food products, according to the report.

Now that she’s learned about the health concerns, Heller said she’s won’t accept any food or beverages in Styrofoam containers. She said there are plenty of alternative materials, including paper containers, that can be used as a substitute, and she’s considering bringing her own metal mug to coffee shops.

She said her warrant article is also intended to look out for people that may not be aware of the health concerns about polystyrene.

“You want to protect people who don’t have the knowledge or the information,” she said.

--brock.globe@gmail.com

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