Bangor will not officially bar restaurants from selling their food in containers made of polystyrene foam — commonly called Styrofoam — for another six weeks, but many of the city’s culinary establishments have already made the jump to alternative materials.
The new ban will take effect on Jan. 1, a full year before an almost identical ban takes effect across the whole state of Maine.
Some Bangor restaurants took the plunge well before the City Council approved the new ban last May, switching over to alternative containers that are made from cardboard or other materials. Others have recently been working to phase out the last of their Styrofoam boxes and soup cups.
Under the new rule, vendors will not be able to provide food or beverages in containers that include polystyrene foam, a plastic material that is particularly hard to recycle. Councilors passed the measure in a 5-3 vote, with supporters arguing that the city should move faster than the rest of the state to prevent the environmental damage that comes from producing and disposing of polystyrene.
Starting in January, 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, then between $250 and $500 for any subsequent violations, according to the rule.
On Nov. 5, the city sent out 267 letters reminding local businesses about the pending change, according to City Solicitor Norm Heitmann. Heitmann expects most businesses to comply with the new rule, but he said that the city will enforce the provision if it receives complaints about violations.
Several other Maine communities already have banned polystyrene, including Freeport, Portland, South Portland and Brunswick.
It’s not clear how Bangor’s ban will affect supermarkets, which are some of the largest food sellers in the city. Representatives from Shaw’s, Hannaford and Walmart either didn’t immediately respond to queries or didn’t directly answer how their offerings would change next year.
But representatives from three Bangor restaurants — Thai Etc., Dysart’s, and Governor’s Restaurant and Bakery — all said that they are close to switching entirely away from polystyrene foam. They said that the change will be expensive, costing some businesses between three and four times what they would have paid for polystyrene foam products.
Another local restaurant, Moe’s Original BBQ, said that it abandoned foam products almost two years ago. And on a regional level, Dunkin’ announced just this month that it would stop serving coffee out of polystyrene containers at all its New England locations by Dec. 1, according to WBUR.
John Mason, general manager of Dysart’s, said that its restaurants have replaced their foam boxes and cups with ones made from cardboard-like materials. The business, which has locations in Bangor and Hermon, already used some of those materials to box up its to-go orders, but is now using them widely and will probably use up the rest of its polystyrene products around Thanksgiving.
Although the statewide polystyrene ban won’t take effect until 2021, Dysart’s made the same changes at its Hermon restaurant so that customers would have a consistent experience.
“The cost is significant, but sometimes you have to absorb that cost for the larger good,” Mason said. “We’re looking at the bigger picture, of the environmental impact that it has.”
Because of the upcoming ban in Bangor, Governor’s, which has six locations from Presque Isle to Lewiston, has used its Queen City location as a testing ground for different alternatives to polystyrene foam before the statewide ban goes into effect a year later, according to Jason Clay, the company’s director of operations.
After trying out various materials, the Bangor location has now replaced its polystyrene to-go boxes with ones made from a plastic-mineral composite. Clay expects the company’s other locations to phase them in later next year.
“I think it’s good for our region to be forward-thinking about looking at this,” he said. “The more that we do look at these kinds of things and are kind of forcing some of these manufacturers to innovate with packaging, there will be some solutions that hopefully won’t cost as much.”