FAYETTEVILLE -- Expanded polystyrene foam, colloquially known as Styrofoam, gets everywhere. And, when it does, it stays.
Fayetteville officials want to set an example for others by curtailing use of the stuff.
The City Council will consider an ordinance Tuesday that aims to accomplish that goal on two fronts. The city would not buy single-use products made of the material. Also, any vendors, concessionaires or food trucks operating on city-owned property such as parks or off-street parking lots would be prohibited from using foam plates, utensils, cups or containers.
Council member Teresa Turk sponsored the ordinance and said it's time for the city to join several others in the nation in restricting the use of polystyrene foam. Little Rock passed a resolution in November banning the purchase with city money of products made of the material. Turk said that action largely influenced the ordinance. Fayetteville's resident-led Environmental Action Committee helped fine-tune the language to also include vendors operating on city property.
"Our planet's running out of time. We've got climate change. We've got so many more people on the planet, and we're not dealing with our waste very well," Turk said. "I think Fayetteville needs to be right up there with Maine and New York and Little Rock as setting an example of reducing and hopefully eliminating our use of Styrofoam in the near future."
If passed, the measure would take effect Nov. 1.
JOINING THE TREND
Polystyrene foam is not biodegradable, and it easily makes its way into waterways. It becomes airborne once it breaks into pieces because it's so light, said Heather Ellzey, the city's environmental educator. It also has toxins that can be released into hot coffee or food, she said.
Research has shown it can be a cancer-causing agent to fish, Ellzey said.
"What does that look like in us?" she said. "Especially with how small the particles are, they can not only go into our digestive system, but they can move throughout our body, into our kidneys and other places, and really settle in."
Maine on Tuesday became the first state to ban single-use containers made of polystyrene foam. Maryland, Oregon, Vermont and Connecticut are considering statewide bans, according to The Associated Press.
Adopting measures that restrict the use of polystyrene foam is becoming less taboo, and more and more cities are joining the trend, said Cooper Martin, director of sustainability and solutions with the National League of Cities. Placing a moratorium on the foam serves as a no-cost way to improve the local environment, he said.
Aside from the environmental reason, many cities ban polystyrene foam for waste-management reasons, Martin said. The material may be cheap, but in the long term, it costs cities more to have to clean it up and store it in a landfill, he said.
"People travel, and they see it," Martin said. "They go to a community and see the sky is not falling just because people can't get their Styrofoam instead of a cardboard container or can't get a plastic bag instead of a reusable bag. All of these things now have started to become much more proven and desirable and talked about in society."
City Attorney Kit Williams said the city can use its power as a property owner to enforce the ordinance. If a vendor persistently refused to stop using foam products while doing business at a park or city-owned parking lot, the city could conceivably tell them to leave or face a trespassing offense, he said.
"We really were trying to be as positive as possible with this," Williams said.
Another section of the ordinance talks about encouraging the city's partners to reduce their use of polystyrene foam.
The University of Arkansas abides by best environmental practices and encourages the vendors with which it holds contracts to do the same, said Eric Boles, director of the university's office of sustainability. He said he wasn't aware of a formal university policy banning polystyrene foam.
Fayetteville Public Schools is piloting compostable food trays at Fayetteville High School, with hopes to expand use of the trays districtwide, said Ally Mracheck, director of child nutrition. The district only keeps polystyrene foam trays on hand if the dishwashing machines malfunction so staff doesn't have to clean hundreds of reusable trays, she said. Schools across the district are using compostable grab-and-go containers, bowls and reusable cups.
Michael Kraus, project manager at Food Loops in Rogers, said the company has a goal to make it easy to move away from old materials such as polystyrene foam to more environmentally friendly options. The company sells compostable cups, utensils, take-out containers, plates and other plant-based products to businesses and vendors, in addition to food-collection services. Food Loops has contracts with Fayetteville and other regional entities for zero-waste events and food collection for compost.
The price of compostable alternatives versus foam is becoming more and more comparable, Kraus said.
"As demand goes up, and production is easier, the cost keeps coming down," he said. "So people who maybe were exposed to them very early have an assumption that they're very expensive, but they're not."
It's possible the city could one day regulate the use of polystyrene foam products in private businesses, as other cities have done, Williams said. The focus would have to be on single-use products, and not construction materials, packaging material for shipping or lined foam used for flotation devices, he said.
City officials want to gauge the reaction to this first ordinance and see how it goes, Turk said. She said she understands residents and businesses get accustomed to using certain materials, but behavior generally seems to be changing.
"I don't think it's very radical. I'm hoping that if we can get out and really educate some of these businesses or maybe create some kind of incentive, maybe it would just go away, and we wouldn't have to legislate it," Turk said. "I'd much rather not legislate something and just have everybody get the message."
Metro on 05/06/2019
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