The Bangor City Council has narrowly agreed to ban the sale of food and drinks in polystyrene foam containers starting next January — a full year before a similar, statewide ban is due to take effect.
On Monday night, the council voted 5-3 to pass the ban, which will apply to Bangor vendors that sell food and drinks in plates and cups, along with stores that sell repackaged food. It will also prohibit stores from re-selling polystyrene foam containers, and the city government won’t be able to either purchase such containers or contract with companies that do.
When it takes effect next year, any Bangor businesses caught violating the ban for the first time will receive a written warning, followed by a fine of between $100 and $200 for a second offense, followed by fines between $250 and $500 for any subsequent violations, according to City Solicitor Norm Heitman.
In late April, Gov. Janet Mills signed into law a similar, statewide ban that will take effect in January 2021 — and that made Maine the first state in the nation to pass such a ban.
But the Bangor councilors who voted in favor of implementing the local ban in January 2020 said the city should move more quickly because of the uncertainty of what could happen to the state law and the environmental damage that can come from continuing to produce and dispose of polystyrene foam containers.
Environmental groups oppose the use of polystyrene foam and other plastics because they require fossil fuels to produce, take hundreds of years to decompose and can cause further damage if they end up in the oceans. Several Maine communities already have banned polystyrene, including Freeport, Portland, South Portland and Brunswick.
“We have a number of communities in the state that have already led the way in this matter of polystyrene,” said one of the supporters, Councilor Gibran Graham, on Monday night. “Honestly, it feels like the state is trying to find a way to catch up. I don’t think we need to wait for the state.”
Councilor Gretchen Schaefer referred to a recent news story about high carbon-dioxide levels that have been found in Antarctica and said she supported the 2020 ban because “I don’t know what kind of future my kids face.”
The citywide ban was supported by City Council Chair Sarah Nichols and four other councilors, Graham, Schaefer, Clare Davitt and Laura Supica.
It was opposed by councilors David Nealley, Cary Weston and Ben Sprague, although Sprague said that he agrees with the principal of banning polystyrene foam but would prefer to wait until the statewide ban takes effect given the inconsistency it would bring to vendors in the Bangor region.
Sprague also suggested amending the local ban so that just the portion that applies to city government takes effect next year, but councilors didn’t take up that amendment.
Nealley said that he’s “not enthusiastic” about Maine’s statewide ban, but also thinks the city should wait until it takes effect in 2021, rather than creating its own ban one year earlier. He also questioned how much impact the local ban on foam food and drink containers would have, given that the statewide one has an exemption for hospitals, which tend to be large organizations.
“I think a lot of it is greenwashing or politicking,” Nealley said.
Nealley also proposed postponing the vote because Councilor Dan Tremble was absent and the council previously postponed a vote when Davitt was absent from a meeting in April, but that motion was rejected.
The Bangor City Council last considered banning polystyrene containers a year-and-half-ago, but at the time, the measure was rejected in a 6-3 vote. The council also voted down a proposed ban on plastic bags at stores.
Opponents have argued the bans would be too expensive for small businesses, and trade groups for the state’s restaurants, grocers and other industries opposed the recent legislation for a statewide polystyrene ban.