Banning foam containers up for debate in Pittsfield


PITTSFIELD -- Thus far, a few small business owners have weighed in against a proposed citywide ban on plastic foam food and drink containers, but both sides will likely have a chance to express views during an upcoming City Council committee meeting.

Rinaldo Del Gallo, an attorney in Pittsfield, made the proposal in a guest column in The Eagle earlier this month and requested that the council pass an ordinance implementing a ban. The council's Ordinance and Rules Committee tabled the idea Feb. 4 to allow time for input from businesses that would be affected and other interested persons.

Del Gallo said media reports on the proposal have been numerous and wide-ranging, and feedback from individuals in the city has been mostly positive. "On the street, a lot of people have come up and said that's a good idea," he said Monday.

But Del Gallo said he still hopes for a strong showing from supporters during an expected information-gathering session before the council committee. The committee meets next on March 4 at City Hall, but the agenda has yet to be posted.

Environmentalists have called for reducing the use of plastic foam products because they are not biodegradable, like paper, when dumped in landfills, and are petroleum-based and can cause pollution. Some scientists also believe incinerating polystyrene, typically called Styrofoam after the Dow Chemical Co. trademark name, can produce toxins.

Del Gallo said he was inspired to make the proposal by a special town meeting vote in Brookline in November that enacted a plastic foam food container ban in a 169-27 vote. That town in turn began discussing a ban after learning of the longstanding foam ban in Great Barrington, which passed it at town meeting in 1990, The Boston Globe reported.

When a ban on plastic foam containers has been enacted through a town meeting vote -- as in Brookline and Amherst -- the measure has "passed overwhelmingly," Del Gallo said, but he understands the ordinance process goes through the council in a city, rather than directly to the voters.

Amherst town meeting members approved a ban in November, but businesses have until January 2014 to comply. The city of Cambridge also began to consider a ban in November.

Del Gallo said he sent the proposal via email and called a number of groups, individuals and organizations to seek their input and support, including the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, Green Drinks groups in Pittsfield and North Adams, environmental and science faculty at Berkshire Community College, Williams College, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and other schools, and groups like the Sierra Club and Environmental League of Massachusetts.

Input has been received from some businesses in the city, said Ward 4 Councilor Christopher J. Connell, a member of the Ordinance and Rules Committee.

"We tabled this so the word would get out to small businesses and we could get their opinions," he said. "I was contacted by a small-business owner [in Ward 4], and they were against the ban," Connell said. "I would hope more business owners would give us their input."

Another business owner mailed his opposition to council President Kevin Sherman, Connell said, and that was forwarded to the committee.

"I'm not in favor of this, unless someone can provide a compelling reason to do it," Connell said.

He said costs for businesses would increase and "it is also difficult to have an isolated ban" in one city. Some businesses here, he said, also do business in other communities in the Berkshires and the region, where the rules would be different.

Using paper cups for hot beverages would cost an estimated several cents more each, Connell said, and that would cut into a business owner's profit.

In addition, Connell isn't convinced paper take-out containers would keep food as warm as plastic foam containers. "They are not as good an insulator," he said.

Connell said he understands the environmentally based concerns. "But I don't see how a small city can do this," Connell said, adding that a statewide or national ban would be more effective and would likely lead to lower-cost paper products over time as more businesses purchased those products.

Mark Miller, a member of the city's Green Commission, said Monday he favors the idea. "I like the idea; I like considering it, certainly," he said.

Miller said he forwarded Del Gallo's column and an email to the commission members, who are scheduled to meet at 5:30 tonight at City Hall. The proposal might be considered under New Business, he said.

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, also a Green Commission member, said Monday, "I'm open to the idea. I think they are getting some input from those opposed to a ban, but I would like to listen to all sides. I think it's a well-intentioned proposition."

To reach Jim Therrien:,
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On Twitter: @BE_therrien


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