I share my experiences to encourage Greenfield residents to support the ban on styrofoam. On Oct. 13, the Pittsfield City Council voted to ban expanded polystyrene, commonly called “styrofoam,” by a 7-3 vote. I was the petitioner in this three-year effort.
The most important lesson I learned in Pittsfield was that local businesses were not significantly opposed to the ban on styrofoam. Despite an historic level of publicity that was shed on previous meetings regarding the then proposed ban, Pittsfield’s Ordinance and Rules Committee arranged to have the Board of Health send a letter, on July 27, 2015, announcing a public hearing to all licensed food establishments in the City of Pittsfield. The misplaced thought was “surely the businesses don’t know, or else they would be here protesting.”
After receiving this formal invitation to come and speak at the Ordinance and Rules Committee, of the 335 invited food establishments that are licensed in the city of Pittsfield, only three businesses came to voice opposition. Obviously, if this ban on styrofoam represented a serious burden on business, there would have been a turnout larger than 1 percent on the eve of a council vote to ban the substance.
It was not the only time. Despite numerous public hearings that received widespread publicity, business opposition to the Pittsfield ordinance had not been significant, save for DART Container, the largest manufacturer of styrofoam whose closest location is in Pennsylvania. Pittsfield is not atypical. When Amherst enacted their ban on styrofoam, 70 percent of all businesses already did not use the product.
That is similar to Pittsfield, where most of the restaurants already did not use styrofoam. The four coffee houses on Pittsfied’s main drag did not use styrofoam. The high-end Mazzeo’s Ristorante did not use sytrofoam. As for the low end, in 2013, McDonald’s finally pulled the plug on all styrofoam products, including beverages, and started using paper cups instead. McDonald’s had stopped using styrofoam for clamshells back in 1990.
Towns, cities and counties across the U.S. have banned Styrofoam including Portland, Honolulu, Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Albany County in New York; Washington, D.C., New York City, and dozens of cities in California. In Massachusetts, Nantucket, Somerville, Amherst, Brookline, Williamstown, Great Barrington and now Pittsfield have banned styrofoam. Williamstown passed their ban earlier this year at a town meeting. Great Barrington has banned styrofoam since 1990 — 25 years ago! There have been almost no complaints. Incidentally, some of the businesses invited to Pittsfield’s O&R Committee meeting by the Pittsfield Board of Health have branches in Great Barrington, such as Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s and the Beacon Cinema (Triplex Theaters in Great Barrington). None of these businesses voiced opposition in Pittsfield, save for Cumberland Farms.
The misrepresentations by DART Container, at previous meetings of Pittsfield’s O&R Committee and the Green Committee, had been unrelenting. They claimed that styrofoam can be recycled when it cannot be effectively recycled. For recycling, the styrofoam food container would need to be cleaned within 24 hours, and would then need to be shipped all the way to Leominster — all when there is virtually no market for the expensive recycled product.
DART representatives had made other deceptive claims before Pittsfield officials. They maintained, for instance, that expanded polystyrene packaging does not seep into any of our food and beverages. Contrary to these deceptions, styrene has been proven to migrate into food and beverages from containers when food or drink is fatty, acidic or hot. In fact, the EPA has published scientific studies showing that virtually all Americans have styrene in the tissues of their bodies.
Styrene and benzene are components of styrofoam. Benzene is a known carcinogen. The National Toxicology Program, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, in 2011 added styrene to its “reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen” list. Yet, DART had repeatedly told the Pittsfield City Council and the Green Commission the misrepresentation that no studies have shown that styrofoam is harmful to humans.
DART’s other false claim is that styrofoam breaks down into harmless chemicals when incinerated — nothing is further from the truth. Under the typical range of temperatures and conditions at modern waste incinerators, combustion of styrofoam produces over 90 different compounds, which ultimately form known biologically active toxins.
But there is one thing even DART did not contest. Styrofoam litter never breaks down — period, end of story. The environmental implications of this are manifold, including pollution of water, land and air, hazardous waste creation, and harming or killing wildlife that ingest smaller, non-biodegradable particles of styrofoam.
The author, Rinaldo Del Gallo III, is an attorney that led the fight to ban styrofoam in Pittsfield, and has written columns published in newspapers across the nation.