Sunday March 31, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- A proposed citywide ban on polystyrene food containers is the topic of a public comment session Monday before the City Council's Ordinance and Rules Committee.

The meeting, at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall, is expected to draw supporters and opponents of the proposed ordinance, which was suggested in a column by local attorney Rinaldo Del Gallo that appeared in The Berkshire Eagle in early February and was followed up by his petition to the council.

"I think this will be a very well-attended meeting," said Ordinance and Rules Committee Chairwoman Melissa Mazzeo.

Mazzeo said comments have come in steadily since the proposal was floated and then referred to her committee. Because of the number of people who might want to speak, and because one member of the committee is expected to be absent, Mazzeo said the issue likely will be tabled following the discussion for possible action at the group's next meeting.

The council subcommittee could develop a specific ordinance for consideration based on Del Gallo's request, or reject the idea, or take no action. Mazzeo said developing an ordinance, if that is the committee's recommendation, would involve a vote to proceed from the full council and then consultation with other subcommittees and city officials, such as the city solicitor and health officials, to draft the proposal.

The council and mayor would ultimately have to approve the wording.


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Mazzeo said that she and the city Health Department compiled a list of affected food operations in the city, and those establishments were notified of the meeting by email.

A representative of a large polystyrene manufacturing firm also is expected. A lengthy letter received from a representative of Dart Container Corp. detailed the company's opposition to such bans and listed arguments for why they should not be implemented.

Another subcommittee member, Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, said he wants to "continue to keep an open mind" on a proposed ban, adding that his principal concern is whether paper or other food containers are an environmentally superior alternative to foam products -- concerning the impact of the chemicals used in manufacturing and the impact on landfills or incinerators.

He said he is confident businesses could adjust to using other products if a ban is implemented.

Committee member Councilor at large Barry Clairmont echoed Krol in saying, "I want to keep an open mind and hear what people have to say."

Mark Miller, a member of the city's Green Commission, said he hopes to attend to hear the arguments but won't offer an opinion in case the council at some point asks the commission for a recommendation.

In his newspaper column, Del Gallo cited a vote in November of the Brookline representative town meeting to overwhelmingly approve a foam container ban there. Amherst's representative town meeting also approved one in November, and bans are in effect in Nantucket and Great Barrington, which has had its ban since 1990.

Those interested in details of the ordinance passed in Amherst, which will take effect in January 2014, can find information on the town's website -- http://bit.ly/13E9wgQ -- under town meeting records. The ordinance has definitions of the containers, affected establishments and lists violation enforcement and other details.

To reach Jim Therrien:
jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_therrien