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Brookline, Mass., residents vote to ban PS containers

By: Mike Verespej

November 14, 2012

BROOKLINE, MASS. (Updated Nov. 15, 9:15 a.m. ET) — Brookline, a town of roughly 60,000 just west of Boston, has banned both single-use plastic bags handed out by large supermarkets and retailers and pharmacies with two or more locations that have common ownership, as well as the use anywhere in the city of polystyrene-based food and beverage containers, effective Dec. 1, 2013.

The bans were passed a day apart, with the plastic bag ban adopted on Nov. 14 by a vote of  142-53 and the PS ban adopted by a vote of 169-27 on Nov. 13.

In addition, Amherst, Mass. — a town of 40,000 just north of Springfield — has a vote scheduled for Nov. 19 to ban the use of disposable expanded PS food service ware, effective July 1, 2013.

The proposed ban in Amherst would include plates, cups, bowls, trays, and hinged or lidded containers, but would not apply to straws, cups or utensils, or to single-use disposable EPS packaging used for uncooked foods such as poultry, meat or fish.

The Brookline polystyrene law does not have an exemption for PS trays used to package uncooked meat, fish or poultry as Amherst has proposed. Many of the PS bans in California and the PS ban in Great Barrington, Mass., near the New York border, have such exemptions.

In that respect, the Brookline law more closely aligns with PS bans in Nantucket, Mass., and Freeport, Maine. Those communities all adopted their bans in 1990.

An exemption for uncooked meat, fish and poultry PS trays had been recommended by both the Brookline board of selectman and the town’s advisory committee. Also rejected was an amendment to have the ban apply only to expanded PS foodservice ware — which is the approach most U.S. communities with bans have taken.

The Brookline plastic bag ban applies to single-use plastic checkout bags unless those bags are compostable or marine degradable. It applies to supermarkets with sales in excess of $1 million, pharmacies with two locations under the same ownership in the city, and retailers with 2,500 square feet of space, or three locations in the city that combined have 2,500 square feet or more.

There is an exemption for plastic bags used to package produce.

The initial petition to ban PS filed by Brookline town member and advisory committee member Nancy Heller had cited health concerns, the availability of alternative products and difficulty in recycling as the reasons why PS containers should be banned.

Her petition said residents could only take recycle PS twice a year on specified drop-off days at the city’s Department of Public Works facilities, and that from there, it was transported to a facility in Rhode Island where it was densified and shipped overseas to China or India.

Separately, Clint Richmond, a Brookline town meeting member who is also a member of the town’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee, told the city’s Advisory Committee that the rigid polystyrene that goes to Brookline’s recycling center in Avon, Mass., is not recycled or even separated, but incinerated.

The majority of the bans in the United States on PS takeout containers are in California, where there are 52 cities with citywide PS takeout packaging bans, and five counties that have PS bans that apply to unincorporated areas of those counties. In addition, 11 cities and counties in California have PS bans that apply only to government facilities and events.

Portland, Seattle and Issaquah, Wash., also have PS bans.

Altogether, 85 U.S. communities have plastic bags bans, including three of the 14 largest and five of the 29 largest cities in the United States: San Francisco, San Jose, Calif.; Austin, Texas, Seattle and Portland, Ore. In addition, Los Angeles — the nation’s second-largest city with a population of 4 million — this summer set in motion a plan to ban single-use plastic bags.

More than half of the plastic bag bans in the United States—47—have been enacted this year. In addition, three communities—Aspen, Colo.; Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County, Md.—have fees on plastic carryout bags, with Boulder set to become the fourth after a second vote Nov. 15