By MAUREEN DOHERTY
NORTH READING — Following a spirited discussion with the Board of Health over the merits of banning the distribution and use of polystyrene food service containers and utensils — more commonly known as a type of styrofoam — by local restaurants, as proposed by the Recycling Committee, the committee has opted to pass over Article 20 at the Fall Town Meeting on Oct. 2.
Recycling Committee member Dan Greenberg did the legwork researching his proposal, analyzing similar bans in 48 other communities in the state, and visiting the town’s eight restaurants to discuss the impact of such a ban and he remains committed to bringing it to fruition. He was happy to report that of those eight restaurants, one already uses sustainable take out food containers, six were receptive to the change and only one opposed it. He said the difference in cost for alternative products was pennies and in some cases, less expensive.
While remaining passionate about the ill health effects caused by such products used for take out containers, particularly when it comes in contact with hot foods, heated oils or is re-heated in a microwave oven and gets converted into a “known carcinogen,” Greenberg did concede that it would take quite a bit of education of the public at large and the businesses that use these products for such a ban to be successful. For instance, in addition to the potential carcinogenic properties that emerge when such products are heated or come in contact with oils, they are also not biodegradable and never accepted to be recycled.
Therefore, working in concert with both the Board of Health and also the Select Board in the coming months would also be necessary, as would a public education campaign. By re-grouping, his goal is to advance his proposal for the June 2024 Town Meeting.
Recycling Committee Chair John Rogers also favored the ban and work done by his colleague while also agreeing to tapping the brakes on it.
Board of Health Chair Gary Hunt and BOH members Pam Vath and Karen Martin ultimately voted 3-0 that while the “Board of Health endorses the purposes and intent” of the Recycling Committee’s goal to amend the Code of North Reading to regulate sustainable food ware and packaging, they believed the proposal was too premature and therefore wish to “work in partnership with the Recycling Committee and re-introduce it at the Annual Town Meeting in June 2024.”
Martin in particular was concerned about language in the proposal that put the onus of regulating violations and evaluating new products for use in this industry on a volunteer board such as the Board of Health was too onerous. She said they already have plenty of responsibilities and do not have enough knowledge in this subject to be given such a responsibility. It was suggested that responsibility for such evaluations be given to the Recycling Committee to review and make recommendations to the Board of Health for future amendments when necessary.
The Board of Health also would have preferred to have been consulted in advance on the matter prior to it appearing on the October Town Meeting warrant.
On Monday night, the Select Board also voted to pass over the article after Greenberg attended their informational meeting during which each of the 20-plus articles were being reviewed, and he informed the board of the Board of Health’s decision.