Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Amherst Styrofoam ban goes into effect


Amherst residents who prefer their beverages in foam cups will now have to travel elsewhere to satisfy their needs.

As of Jan. 1, food service businesses in Amherst and those who use town property for events may no longer serve food or beverages in single-use plastic foam containers, commonly referred to by the brand name Styrofoam.

“The hope of this ban is to get people to think about single-use material and to move toward that material that is compostable,” Amherst recycling coordinator Susan Waite said.

Due to the higher cost of paper products, a hardship clause in the bylaw allows businesses to appeal to the health department if the purchase of plastic foam alternatives causes an undue financial hardship.

However, according to Amherst Health Director Julie Federman, no businesses have applied for a hardship waiver yet.

Before the plastic foam ban was put into effect, Waite said that the Town of Amherst Recycling and Refuse Management Committee, along with the Amherst League of Women Voters and the Hitchcock Center for the Environment, met with local businesses to provide more information and discuss alternative materials.

“From that we determined that about 75 to 80 percent of the restaurants and food service type places in Amherst already did not use foam by their own personal choice,” Waite said.

According to Waite, the Amherst Chamber of Commerce was also included in early discussions. At its request, the start date for the ban was postponed by six months, from July 1, 2013, to Jan. 1, 2014, to give businesses more time to find alternatives. The bylaw was passed in November 2012.

Both Dunkin Donuts and Cumberland Farms, two of the businesses Waite said she predicts will be impacted the most, have stores in Great Barrington, which has had a similar ban on foam since 1990.

“It’s something that they know how to deal with,”Waite said.

Liz Valadares, assistant manager at the Dunkin Donuts on University Drive in Amherst, said that customers would often request paper cups even before the ban was put into effect.

“The paper cups are a little bit more expensive and so are the lids,” said Valadares, but added that the cost increase was not significant. However, she said that customers can no longer order extra-large hot beverages because the paper cups are not available in that size.

Valadares said she doesn’t see many downsides to the ban.

“Now we’re kind of getting everybody’s needs, except for those who want the extra-large,” she said.

Amherst College, Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts had all previously eliminated foam disposables from their dining halls before the ban was put into effect, according to the Town of Amherst website.

Nantucket, Brookline, Somerville and most recently Albany, N.Y., also have similar plastic foam bans, according to Waite.

In Amherst, the ban will be monitored and enforced by the Department of Health, which conducts restaurant inspections twice a year.

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program released a report stating that styrene is, “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Although foam is lightweight, it’s also extremely bulky.

This makes it difficult to dispose of, Waite said, because although foam can be recycled, it’s usually burned in incinerators and buried in landfills that are filling up. Most of Amherst’s trash is now being brought to landfills in Seneca Falls, N.Y., she said.

While foam may seem like a cheap, efficient option at first, Waite said, “it’s all in the hind end of the process that is its biggest environmental downfall.

“The point of the ban is that there are costs to using the foam that are not paid for by anybody except the earth,” she added.

Aviva Luttrell can be reached at [email protected].

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