Townsend resident proposes polystyrene ban

Regulation would ban styrofoam from food and retail stores

Andrew Shepherd talking about his proposed regulation on polystyrene in front of the Townsend Board of Health
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TOWNSEND – In a further effort to improve the local environment, Andrew Shepherd proposed a town-wide ban of polystyrene containers from food and retail stores.

Shepherd appeared before the Board of Health Monday evening to further discuss the regulation he originally proposed to the board last year. More than a dozen other people attended the meeting, mostly in support of the proposal.

Shepherd is no stranger to environmental regulations, as he proposed a ban on thin-film single-use plastic bags at the 2019 annual town meeting. The ban then went into effect on August 1 last year.

The new regulation, if approved, would prohibit places that sell food or other retail from selling or giving out disposable containers made of expanded polystyrene. Though polystyrene is more commonly known by its trademarked name, Styrofoam, expanded polystyrene is essentially Styrofoam that’s been expanded via a gaseous blowing agent.

“I submitted the Styrofoam ban because I’m concerned about the changes in our climate,” Shepherd said. “Whether you debate if it’s human-caused or not, it’s enough of a problem where I believe everyone will ask themselves, ‘What will you do to leave our environment better than when you found it. Six months ago, I asked myself that question and decided on the Styrofoam reduction regulation. I believe this will be a small step to curtail a product that only contributes to problems of waste and adverse health effects.”

The regulation would be enforced by the Board of Health, though local establishments would have a one year grace period to adapt to the regulation if they prove to the board that it would be difficult for them to switch from polystyrene containers to a more environmentally-safe option. After that, a 20 dollar fine will be issued to any establishment still distributing the containers.

Cities and towns across the country have banned the product, which doesn’t biodegrade. Cups, plates and other items might get smashed into little pieces, but then it’s even more difficult to clean up. New York City has banned the product, as as Freeport and Portland, Maine.

Shepherd said that he recently visited 28 businesses in Townsend that could be impacted by the regulation and noted how between four and six of them stressed concern about how it could hurt business. Those include Gourmet Donuts  whose corporate offices “stopped talking” to him, Townsend House and Sophia’s Pizza. Material that is more environmentally-healthy is usually more expensive to obtain that polystyrene.

“This regulation is by no means designed to hamper businesses or add extra expenses to individuals,” he added.

While the entire board agreed that polystyrene was an environmental hazard, Clerk Christopher Nocella expressed concern that the regulation could increase town spending on proper trash and recyclable disposal, since the different material would be more expensive and heavier to dispose of. He also wanted to hold a public hearing so that more residents could weigh in on the regulation.

“I love the idea of doing this, but I think this is a town decision and not a Board of Health decision,” Nocella said. “We have over 9,000 people in town, so I want to give people a chance to talk about this.”

The board voted unanimously, 3-0, to hold a public hearing on the regulation on Monday, Feb. 24.