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Brookline Town Meeting bans Styrofoam coffee, takeout containers

Posted by Brock Parker  November 13, 2012 11:22 PM

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By Brock Parker, Globe Correspondent

Brookline Town Meeting voted Tuesday night to ban restaurants in the town from serving coffee or take-out food in of Styrofoam, or polystyrene containers.

By a vote of 169 in favor and 27 opposed, Brookline’s Special Town meeting voted to prohibit the use of disposable polystyrene (also known by its trademarked name, Styrofoam) for take-out food and beverages packaged in food service establishments in the town.

As a result, Dunkin’ Donuts and other restaurants that serve hot coffee in plastic foam cups will have to use an alternative cup in Brookline beginning in December of 2013. “It seems to me that the environmental effects are reason enough to ban this stuff,” said Nancy Heller, the Town Meeting member who proposed the ban.

The ban on polystyrene food and beverage containers comes as Town Meeting is also considering this week a proposal to prohibit some retail establishments from issuing customers disposable plastic check-out bags unless the shopping bags are compostable and marine-degradable.

Heller proposed the ban on disposable polystyrene containers after learning about a similar ban that has been on the books in Great Barrington, MA, since 1990.

Heller said she has concerns about the environmental impact of polystyrene containers because while the material can be recycled the process is cumbersome, and residents in Brookline cannot put plastic-foam containers in with other recyclable materials that are picked up by the town. Instead residents wishing to recycle the containers must take them to the Department of Public Works on special drop-off days each year.

But Christine Riley, the director of corporate social responsibility for Dunkin’ Brands, urged Town Meeting members not to vote in favor of the ban because she said it will costs businesses more money to use alternatives to polystyrene containers.

Riley said Dunkin’ Donuts is committed to finding a sustainable alternative to the polystyrene cups it uses, but has not been able to find one.

“If that existed we would be using it,” Riley said.

Town Meeting member John Hall said that if someone doesn’t want to drink coffee out of a Styrofoam cup, they should vote by going somewhere that serves coffee in a different container. Hall said he thought the ban would be a case of a government that is beginning to overreach.

“Let’s get government out of our coffee cups,” Hall said.

But Jim Solomon, the chef and owner of The Fireplace restaurant in Brookline, said he supported the ban because he said businesses will move faster to using substitutes for Styrofoam if communities encourage them or require them to do so. Solomon said his restaurant has switched to bio-degradable containers out of concern for the environment.

“I’m pro-business, but I also believe that businesses have a corporate responsibility,” Solomon said.

Town Meeting will reconvene in Brookline High School tonight at 7 p.m. and is expected to vote on the proposal that would prohibit some retailers from using non compostable and non marine degradable plastic checkout bags.

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