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Foam ban in Amherst to be delayed to 2014, if approved by Town Meeting

The Recycling and Refuse Management Committee, based on the recommendations of its Foam Subcommittee, is likely to amend an article that will come before fall Town Meeting, which begins Monday, so that the prohibition on foam food service containers goes into effect Jan. 1, 2014, rather than July 1, 2013.

At the subcommittee’s meeting Thursday, Harold Tramazzo, who owns The Hangar restaurant and the Wings Over Amherst delivery service, said the measure is punitive to a small number of businesses that need to use the containers that are commonly referred to by the brand name Styrofoam.

“This ban affects 14 people,” Tramazzo said. “It will put some out of business, maybe, and it will certainly raise prices.”

He said his research shows costs for home-delivery containers would triple if he replaced the Styrofoam with a suitable alternative that is biodegradable. In addition, he said, no other types of disposable containers he has researched are able to keep his chicken wings as hot during the delivery.

The idea behind the ban, said Recycling Coordinator Susan Waite, is that expanded polystyrene is a bulky product that clutters landfills. Styrene is also considered a carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program, raising concerns about incinerating the material.

Tony Maroulis, executive director of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, said the delay would give more time for his organization to educate business owners, seek alternative products and set up a buying consortium to limit potential price increases.

“We’re just looking for a reasonable compromise,” Maroulis said.

Members of the subcommittee agreed, but not without reservations.

Brenda Kennedy-Davies said she was reluctant to compromise on the measure that has been worked on for a few years.

“The more it gets delayed, the more it gets delayed, and it never gets implemented,” Davies said.

There is worry among some that the Amherst vote may take on more urgency given that a similar ban was enacted by Town Meeting in Brookline earlier in the week. There, representatives from Dunkin’ Donuts argued that it would be costly for restaurants to find alternatives. There are two Dunkin Donuts locations in Amherst. A spokesperson for the chain could not be reached for comment.

Amherst’s proposed ban offers a hardship exemption of up to a year for any business that can’t immediately comply.

Meanwhile, Tramazzo suggested that instead of banning the products, the town work on efforts to recycle them.

He said would be willing to cover the $300 per month cost of the Dart Container Corp.’s Cups are Recyclable, or CARE program, which would provide a so-called densifier machine at the town transfer station to compact foam products into materials that can be used in construction, such as shingles.

“If the program were in place, we’d get rid of all Stryofoam in town, truly,” Tramazzo said.

He estimated that the ban might eliminate only about one-third of the product, pointing out that many people will continue to get food from restaurants and convenience stores in other communities and that expanded polystyrene will still end up in landfills via the town waste system.

Though open to the idea of recycling, the subcommittee didn’t act on the proposal.

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