Somerville Styrofoam Ban Largely Ignored
Somerville, Mass. – A citywide ban on expanded polystyrene or “Styrofoam” that went into effect last month is largely not being respected or enforced.
Somerville Neighborhood News (SNN) reporters visited ten businesses, from Davis Square to Broadway, and found six that were still selling take-out food in Styrofoam containers.
The ban, voted on last year, makes it illegal for businesses and institutions to use polystyrene containers like cups, plates and “clamshell” boxes. Businesses that violate this ordinance could face fines of up to $300.
“The reason is that it [polystyrene] contains certain chemicals from crude oil, and when they go to the landfill, when we dispose them, basically, it generates a lot of leaching effects for chemicals in the land as well as the ground water,” Vithal Deshpande, Environmental Coordinator for the city’s Office of Sustainability and Environment (OSE), told SNN.
According to the ordinance, which went into effect on May 23, the OSE was supposed to do outreach to area businesses and “adopt a list of available suitable affordable biodegradable/compostable or recyclable alternatives” no later than 30 days before the date of enactment.
Deshpande said that his office knew about the deadline but had other priorities for the spring; most notably the rollout of uniform trash cans for all residents.
“We are developing the program, and development takes time,” he promised. Asked about the vacancy and the ordinance, City Communications Director Denise Taylor said a new OSE director would take over on July 1.
Taylor also said that the Styrofoam ban would go into effect behind schedule. “We expect enactment of the ban to be about three months later than originally planned, which is a necessary delay to ensure our businesses are fully prepared for what will be a big change for some,” Taylor said in a June 9 email.
President of the Board of Alderman Bill White was surprised to learn that the ban was not being respected. “I think what happened was the key person left [the OSE director’s] position and there was really no follow through as far as what should be done with the enforcement of the education of that ban,” White speculated.
“We’ll be following through with the administration on that,” he added. Some businesses and agencies have complied with the ban. Reporters noted that Redbone’s, Anna’s Taqueria, Dunkin Donuts and Lotus Express were all using alternative materials for to-go containers.
The Somerville Public Schools and other city agencies have also ceased their use of Styrofoam, according to city officials.
This Somerville Neighborhood News segment is special to Open Media Boston. It originally aired on March 25, 2014 on Somerville Community Access Television. For more information on SNN, visit them on Facebook - http://bit.ly/SvilleNews. Or their website - http://www.scatvsomerville.org/snn.