by Deborah McDermott
Seacoast Online news story
YORK, Maine — A proposed ordinance banning polystyrene containers is heading to a public hearing on Feb. 11, and perhaps again on Feb. 25, as selectmen work to ensure the broadest number of people have an opportunity to comment on it — particularly the business community.
The decision came following the first public hearing on the proposal recently. It was clear from the tenor of the discussion that selectmen support the idea of the ordinance, with no one speaking in outright opposition.
The proposal has been championed by York High School seniors Hannah Gennaro and Caroline Leal, but has been embraced by additional students who have been working with them. It states that retail establishments can’t serve or sell food or beverages using polystyrene (Styrofoam) foam containers, nor can they sell polystyrene containers themselves, like coffee cups or plates.
Selectmen agreed with student Gabe Sarno, who asked them to delete a section of the proposed ordinance that exempts nonprofit and religious organizations. Sarno said if these groups are exempted, “the ordinance won’t reach its intended goals. Nonprofits like schools, institutions and hospitals can be very large and use a large amount of polystyrene foam. The category is too large to ignore. Everyone in York should participate.”
Several selectmen said they couldn’t understand why the exemption was in the plastic bag ordinance and saw no reason to include it in this one.
During the public hearing, Anthony’s Food Shop employee and York High senior Kayla Dredge said Anthony’s “has never used foam packaging.” The store uses cardboard for food made behind the counter, and doesn’t sell foam products, either. The store “fully supports this ordinance and we hope to see other businesses in town stand behind it as well.”
That raised an issue for both Mike Estes and Dawn Sevigny Watson. The ordinance would not go into effect for a full year if passed by voters, or until May 2020. This was in response to lessons learned from the plastic bag ordinance, when beach businesses in particular said they didn’t know about it and didn’t have enough lead time to use down their plastic bags.
But Estes and Watson said they would still like to see the Greater York Region Chamber of Commerce members apprised of the proposal. Burns said he would get in touch with chamber President Holly Roberts. A second public hearing was set for Feb. 11 to garner any additional comments. That would give selectmen the option of a third hearing on Feb. 25 before they have to make a decision.
Leal and Gennaro both began their efforts last year and have used the proposed ordinance as their advanced political and legal studies class project. “We’re incredibly proud to be a part of one of the only projects in our class where we can witness a proposed solution take effect, if passed by the voters,” said Leal.