Sunday, April 3, 2016

A Needed Nudge

Of the many types of empty food product containers encountered in local and not-so-local waterways, polystyrene (opening photo) is considered by most to be the worst of the worst.

It seems we all know polystyrene is bad news for ourselves and the environment yet, day after day, it gets passed across store counters from merchant to customer as though alternative containers didn't exist, when in fact they do.

Sometimes a gentle nudge is all we need to make a better choice, especially when protection of the environment is at stake.  I mention this because Scott Richardson, a citizen in the neighboring town of Concord, Massachusetts is asking his fellow-citizens to approve a bylaw (Article 45) which will read "Retail establishments are prohibited from selling or distributing foam polystyrene or rigid polystyrene food service ware to customers unless equivalent biodegradable, compostable, reusable, or recyclable food service ware products are available for sale and are clearly labeled such that any customer can distinguish easily the biodegradable, compostable, reusable, or recyclable food service ware products". 

Richardson points out that styrene is a hazardous substance, a neurotoxin, causes cancer in lab mice, and is "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" according to DHHS (US Dept. of Health and Human Services), NTP (National Toxicology Program). 

A polystyrene container bearing a # 6 label is not accepted by the town's recycling program. Therefore it either gets buried, burned, or...finds its way into the environment where, for several centuries, it slowly divides into smaller and smaller bits (often mistaken as food by wildlife).

If Concord approves this bylaw the town will join these other Massachusetts communities with polystyrene bylaws: Amherst, Brookline, Cambridge, Great Barrington, Nantucket, Pittsfield, Somerville, South Hadley, and Williamstown.  Other, more distant cities include: Albany (New York), Portland (Maine), Portland (Oregon), Seattle (Washington), as well as 65 cities in California, and 6 in Florida.

A recent article in the Concord Journal (3/31/16) by Henry Schwan noted that Richardson has been successful in persuading some Concord merchants to support the bylaw.  The general manager of Crosby's Marketplace stated that "Crosby's will sell both polystyrene products and alternatives, and let the customer decide which to buy."

Having such a choice is something most of us will appreciate, and I have faith that most will gladly pay a few cents more for the good of our environment.


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