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City Council considering Styrofoam food packaging ban

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  More than two years ago, the city banned single-use plastic bags. Now, the City Council has its eyes set on a ban of nonrecyclable Styrofoam food packaging. Last Monday night, the council held a public hearing on an ordinance for sustainable food ware and packaging that was introduced by Councillor-at-Large Jessica Ann Giannino and Ward 1 Councillor Joanne McKenna. Under the ordinance, which next goes before the council’s Ways and Means Subcommittee, restaurants and stores would be required to use biodegradable, compostable, reusable or recyclable food containers for prepared foods.

  “This is sentimental to me, because polystyrene bans are the reason I got into politics to begin with,” said Giannino. “When I was at Salem State in 2010, one of the first things we did was ban these, and that was a decade ago.”

  Polystyrene is a plastic that’s made from petrochemicals, and many of those chemicals are health hazards and have neurotoxins and carcinogens that can leach into foods, said Giannino. She said the materials are also often mistaken as food by animals, and they can be hazardous when they are burned.

  “These plastics are sent to our incinerator around the corner and come into our atmosphere, so we’re inhaling the residual aftermath of these items,” said Giannino. “They are also not recyclable; Massachusetts does not include polystyrenes in their curbside recycling programs.”

  As of October, 65 communities in the state have enacted a polystyrene ban.

  “I know change is hard, but it’s been two-and-a-half years since we banned the plastic bags, and it’s made a world of difference in our community with litter,” said McKenna. She said that the Styrofoam containers are a bigger health and environmental hazard than plastic bags.

  Ward 4 Councillor Patrick Keefe said he supports the ordinance, but he added that the hospitality industry is facing supply chain issues when it comes to packaging. He suggested the city may want to enact the ordinance toward the end of 2022 rather than on July 1 as stated in the ordinance. “Right now, for some restaurants, it’s feast or famine; they are just going to get any takeout packaging they can find,” said Keefe. “You can’t find pizza boxes in some places right now; it’s really that dire with the supply chain.”

  Dimple Rana, the city’s director of Healthy Community Initiatives, said she supports the ordinance, but asked the council to consider the impact to local businesses. She said the city could provide some kind of incentives to local businesses and restaurants to help cover the costs of any new materials they may need to buy.

  The new ordinance will not include plastic straws. Commission on Disabilities Chair Ralph DeCicco said many people with disabilities, especially older people and autistic children, rely on the plastic straws.

Joanne McKenna
Ward 1 Councilor

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