PITTSFIELD -- With some hesitation, the Green Commission decided Monday to research municipal bans on polystyrene food containers and plastic bags before voting whether to recommend a ban in Pittsfield.
A ban on foam beverage and food containers had been referred to the commission by the City Council's Ordinance and Rules Committee, and the full council later sent a plastic bag ban request to the commission for review as well.
Both proposals were spearheaded by attorney Rinaldo Del Gallo, who suggested in a February 2013 column in The Eagle that Pittsfield follow Great Barrington, Brookline, Amherst and other communities in banning the substances.
Speaking of so-called foam containers for take-out foods, hot drinks and other products, Del Gallo reiterated arguments made in other communities in passing bans -- polystyrene is not biodegradable and it contains harmful compounds that can enter the environment, such as through contact with foods or through refuse incineration, which Pittsfield employs.
The argument that the change would be an economic hardship for merchants is "absolutely without merit," Del Gallo said, adding that there are alternative paper or other containers that could be substituted with only a slight increase in cost.
Commissioner Nancy Nylen and others were unsure what their role should be, as the committee has dealt mostly with energy-saving and alternate energy issues. "Personally, I think it's a great idea, but not directly in our jurisdiction," she said.
Del Gallo said he believes the councilors are primarily looking for an expression of support or nonsupport from the commission. He suggested that could be recommending a specific type of bylaw or just referring to aspects used in other communities that the commission supports.
Commissioners Robert Harrison and Bruce Collingwood -- also the city's commissioner of public utilities -- said there should be an expression of general support before the matter is researched for more information and details of existing bans.
"I think we need direction; we need a vote," Collingwood said.
Harrison said the commission "needs to decide" if it even wants to pursue the advisability of a ban.
Chairman Joseph LaRoche said he thought the proposal is worth exploring but has questions about what a ban would cover -- saying he is concerned it could affect foam insulation materials for the construction industry.
Del Gallo said he believes most foam bans cover only food containers, but it would be up to the community to write the specific ordinance. He said he deliberately did not offer a specific ordinance in making the requests.
After commission member Mark Miller suggested that he could seek input from Amherst, Great Barrington and Brookline, LaRoche asked for such a motion and Harrison offered one. The vote was unanimous in favor of further research into municipal bans.
Information on plastic bag bans also will be sought.
The commission meets next on May 19, LaRoche said.
Information on the Amherst polystyrene ban, which took effect Jan. 1, is available at www.amherstma.gov/index.aspx?NID=1743.
Great Barrington's plastic bag ban took place on March 1. The town has banned polystyrene food containers since the early 1990s.
To reach Jim Therrien:
or (413) 496-6247
On Twitter: @BE_therrien