For the time being, hospitals are exempt from a new Bangor rule that bans the sale of food and beverages in polystyrene foam containers, but that could soon change.
When city officials wrote the new polystyrene ban that took effect on Jan. 1, they decided to exempt hospitals from the rule because a similar statewide ban on polystyrene will also exempt them when it takes effect next year.
But during a meeting this week, some city councilors said they don’t see a need for the exemption and would like to remove it. Councilor Dan Tremble, who proposed the change, also said that he will push legislators to eliminate the exemption in the statewide polystyrene ban before it takes effect next Jan. 1.
State and local officials have opposed the use of polystyrene foam because its production and disposal are harmful to the environment. However, alternative packaging materials generally cost more to produce than polystyrene.
“If they’re using Styrofoam in medical devices, that’s different,” Tremble said during the meeting on Monday night, using the brand name for polystyrene. “But in food services, I’d like to see us moving forward with removing the hospital exemption locally, then getting it statewide.”
On Tuesday afternoon, representatives from Bangor’s two hospitals, Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center and St. Joseph Hospital, said they were not immediately able to comment on any changes that the city is considering making to its polystyrene ban.
“Our focus in this area is on providing safe, high-quality food to our patients, visitors and staff,” EMMC spokeswoman Tricia Denham said. “Over the past few years, Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center has reduced the amount of polystyrene we use at our facility and taken on additional environmentally friendly initiatives in our food services area. We have not seen the proposed changes to the ordinance in writing, so are not able to comment on these adjustments at this time.”
Donna Berry, an assistant to the president of St. Joseph Hospital, said that the hospital was not immediately able to comment on the proposed change, but added that the hospital does not use “a whole lot of” products made from polystyrene foam.
At least three other Bangor councilors voiced support for Tremble’s proposal to remove the exemption. Councilor Sarah Nichols said that the city should also consider how to update the local rules to ensure that they apply to other institutions in the city that may not currently fall under the ban.
Councilor Gretchen Schaefer said that her employer, Husson University, has already stopped distributing food in polystyrene containers and that “it’s been pretty painless as a consumer. When I go to lunch, it used to be in big clamshell, and now they wrap the sandwich in wax paper and it doesn’t make a difference.”
City Solicitor Paul Nicklas said that he would research what changes the city could make to its ban.
Like the state’s forthcoming polystyrene ban, the city’s ban also has an exemption for state-funded programs that deliver meals to homebound residents, such as Meals on Wheels.