August 18, 2018
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Teens renew effort to get polystyrene ban on town ballot

Ioanna Raptis | The York Weekly
Ioanna Raptis | The York Weekly
Then-York High School seniors in the Advanced Political and Legal Studies are working to pass an ordinance banning polystyrene containers in the town. Pictured from left: Sammi Pooler, Margaret Wilkinson, Sophie Eytel and Anya Walsh.
By Deborah McDermott, The York Weekly

YORK, Maine — Crossed wires appears to be the most likely explanation for why there will be no polystyrene ban on the ballot in November — although York High students remain committed to seeing the matter come before voters by at least next May.

That is the takeaway, after students came before the Board of Selectmen recently to jump start plans for an ordinance that would ban the use of all polystyrene containers in town restaurants and businesses.

Organizer Sophia Eytel, who just graduated from YHS, said when she handed in a model ordinance last March, she had expected the town to be in touch. “We told them at the time that our job is not to write legislation, that’s where they’re supposed to come in and help us. They said our model ordinance wasn’t good enough, but we said that this is just an example.”

[York teens want their town to be the latest to ban polystyrene]

Town Manager Steve Burns told selectmen he hadn’t heard back from organizers except sporadically since March, and called the model ordinance “unworkable.” In March, he said he would research ordinances from other towns, check in with the chamber of commerce and come back to the board with his findings. However, no item to discuss the matter has been on a board agenda since then.

Eytel admits with graduation activities she was not as involved in following up as she might have been, “but now it’s summer, and we’re on the ball and on target, and intend to form a plan to bring this before voters.”

Eytel was joined at the last selectmen’s meeting by incoming York High seniors Caroline Leal and Hannah Gennaro, who said they are committed to the issue. The two are taking an Advanced Political and Legal Studies course at YHS this fall and their project will entail getting an ordinance before voters.

“But this issue is much bigger than just a project for us,” said Leal.

[Will Portland’s bag fees, polystyrene ban make a difference?]

“We campaigned for the plastic bag ban three years ago, so we have experience with townwide ordinances and we know it can be done,” said Gennaro. Nine towns in Maine have passed polystyrene bans, “and the more towns that pass bans, the more demand there will be for alternatives.”

After the three young women spoke at the meeting, the audience burst into applause. That kind of support is being mirrored in the community, said Eytel in a later interview. “The issue with our movement is not a lack of resonance,” she said. She said thousands signed an online petition in support of the ban, and she and the other organizers will be at upcoming Gateway Farmers’ Markets on Saturdays, getting signatures on a document in support of the ordinance.

Eytel said selectmen told her “they don’t think they have enough information. We’re in the process of enlightening them. We’ll answer any questions and do any research for them that they want. I think they’re a little freaked out, but nine other towns have done this.”

Ultimately, she said, she’d like selectmen to hold a public forum on the proposal. “This community wants the town to be more environmentally sustainable. We know they’re on our side,” she said. “We want the selectmen to hear from the people, hear from the business owners who have switched to biodegradable products.”

Selectmen at their last meeting expressed a little confusion over the next steps, saying they thought the ball had been in the organizers’ court since last March. “I thought they were going to come back to us with different proposals and more research,” said Dawn Sevigny Watson.

[Belfast becomes the latest Maine community to ban plastic bags, polystyrene]

Mike Estes said he felt like a ban on all stryrofoam containers “is really too broad. Does Hannaford really have a proper way to put their meat into some type of (non-polystyrene) container? I would be interested to see what other towns have done.”

In a July 15 letter to the board, the students wrote that “Hannaford in Portland has transitioned to a corn-based container for their meats. A phone call to the meat department revealed there have been no problems or negative consequences as a result of this change. It is likely that Hannaford is prepared to make this shift in all of their Maine stores.”

The students also supplied selectmen and Burns with ordinances adopted in Belfast, Brunswick and Freeport, along with the model they submitted in March, which they said are “similar in scope and language.”

Selectmen agreed it is too late now to put a measure on the November ballot. Burns said he would place a discussion item on an upcoming agenda in late August or September.

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