Plastic foam packaging ban moves forward in Brunswick

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BRUNSWICK — The Town Council on Tuesday scheduled a March 21 public hearing on a proposed ban on plastic foam food containers.

The new law, if enacted, would ban the use of polystyrene containers, commonly known by the trade name “Styrofoam,” for packaging food at grocery stores, coffee shops and restaurants.

The ban is part of a broader effort by the advocacy group Bring Your Own Bag – Midcoast to ban polystyrene and charge a 5-cent fee on single-use shopping bags in Topsham and Brunswick.

The council on Dec. 7, 2015, directed staff to craft ordinance language, as well as an outreach plan to educate residents and local businesses on the proposed ban.

The proposal for a bag fee is still being worked on by BYOBM and the town’s Recycling and Sustainability Committee.

The ban is closely based on one in Portland, which went into effect in April. Freeport has had a ban on the plastic foam packaging since 1990, and South Portland recently passed its own restrictions, which take effect March 1.

Maine law also bans the use of foam containers for food and beverages at state functions or facilities.

The draft in its current form would prevent all retail establishments in Brunswick from serving, selling, or packaging food in polystyrene foam containers. Retailers also could not sell polystyrene packaging.

Food that is pre-packaged in polystyrene, like meat or vegetables, could still be sold.

The ordinance would also ban the town from using or purchasing polystyrene for any town department, facility, or event.

The proposed law does, however, contain exemptions for the sale of raw or live seafood. Retailers could also request temporary exemptions based on “undue hardship,” which would be examined by the town manager on a case-by-case basis.

To inform retailers of the possible changes, town staff created a schedule of planned outreach to local businesses.

By Feb. 5, the town will send electronic notices and mailings with information about an information session in February and the March 21 public hearing.

Sometime during the week of Feb. 22, town representatives will hold a public meeting with the Brunswick Downtown Association and the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber to discuss the proposed ordinance with interested businesses.

If the council passes the ordinance after the public hearing, the target date for enforcement would be Oct. 1.

Enforcement would include a warning for a first violation, a $250 fine for a second violation, and $500 fines for each subsequent violation.

The only criticism during the meeting was from Councilor Suzan Wilson, who suggested town staff try to find time for more than just one public workshop.

An ordinance like this is “very broad,” she said. “It changes everything.”

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or wwuthmann@theforecaster.net. Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

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Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.