Local attorney Rinaldo Del Gallo is petitioning the city to consider a ban on polystyrene containers.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A petition from a local resident asking Pittsfield to consider a ban on styrofoam containers first proposed more than a year ago is very slowly working its way through the consideration of local government.
The city's Green Commission on Monday resumed discussions tabled in November on the petition, along with a similar one calling for a ban on plastic shopping bags, both brought forward by local attorney Rinaldo Del Gallo.
Polystyrene, commonly called by the trademark name Styrofoam, is particularly detrimental to the environment, Del Gallo told the commission. Because the material is non-biodegradable, he said, it lingers in the natural environment, where it is toxic to wildlife and water supply. Nor is burning it, as Pittsfield does with much of its waste, sufficient to break down its toxic compounds.
"The industry statement that it breaks down into innocuous components is phony. It's simply not true," said Del Gallo.
Del Gallo said his research suggests the comparable costs of other, less harmful products available on the market to the food industry makes its impact on business negligible.
"The idea that this would cause economic damage is absolutely without merit," said Del Gallo.
Chairman Joseph LaRoche asked if bans in other communities include polystyrene products used in construction. Del Gallo said these measures are typically focused on disposable containers from restaurants and stores, with most regulations on the consumer distribution side and not regulating how products are delivered to businesses from outside wholesalers.
"I think at this point I think we first need to decide, do we feel that polystyrene presents enough of an environmental and health risk that we feel its use should be banned in some form of action," said member Robert Harrison in reference to the former petition. "The extent of that ban would be a second discussion."
The polystyrene issue was referred to the Green Commission for further study by the council last year following a hearing by its Committee on Ordinance & Rules during which local environmental advocates testifying for a ban were opposed by a lawyer representing Dart Container Co., one of the nation's largest producer of polystyrene containers. Del Gallo's subsequent petition to ban plastic bags was similarly referred, for lack of a more suitable solution.
The Green Commission was formed in 2008 to explore and recommend ways the city could pursue cleaner energy and greater energy efficiency, and not specifically related to the task assigned by the council, leading to uncertainty about how to move forward with the petition.
"In terms of its feasibility, If it's a good idea, we need information to stand behind that," said member James McGrath. "I'm worried that there's a higher level of investigation that's really needed here, and outreach to the community and others, and I'm worried that we're going to continue to spin our wheels."
"I'm worried that we're still going to be here in six months looking at the same issue," added McGrath, who is also the city's parks, open spaces and natural resources manager. "I don't know if the city has the resources, at least not in the Community Development office, to really do justice to the whole investigative component to this."
"I personally think it's a great idea," said member Nancy Nylen, but also expressed uncertainty about what the commission's role in the issue was. "I think it's a topic that's sort of, but not directly, related to our jurisdiction."
The commission asked Del Gallo to provide more information regarding the bans on these products, including the texts of ordinances passed by other communities. Additionally, commission member Mark Miller offered to research the background discussions leading to bans in Great Barrington, Amherst and Brookline.
Miller will also look for more information from the Lenox Environmental Committee, which is also currently examining the issue of regulating polystyrene products.
The commission will take up the issue again at its May 19 meeting.