MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The Maplewood Township Council discussed two environmental ordinances at its Feb. 18 meeting — one that would ban disposable food containers made of Styrofoam and another that would regulate food vendors’ ability to offer straws, disposable utensils and individual packets of condiments. Both ordinances are scheduled to be on the agenda at the TC’s March 3 meeting.
“Basically, we combined the Hoboken and Summit ones to include every possible Styrofoam and polystyrene thing that we could,” Committeewoman Nancy Adams said, explaining that Maplewood modeled its ordinance on those from nearby towns.
“They’re all basically the same thing, what we call Styrofoam,” she said of Styrofoam and polystyrene. “They’re just technically different compounds.”
Styrofoam takes 500 years or longer to break down and is harmful when thrown out and released into the environment. Committee members agreed the ordinance should be passed.
The second ordinance, about restaurants offering disposable utensils, straws and condiment packets, generated more conversation.
“This is basically asking businesses to only provide them on request by the customer, as opposed to giving them out,” Adams said.
Committeeman Vic DeLuca brought up self-service stations, where customers can buy soup or salads and are not ordering over a counter. Adams said that, if the ordinance goes into effect, it would require those businesses to change.
“I understand not pushing it on people,” DeLuca said. “But there are people who need a spoon because they’re eating their soup in the car and maybe it’s not efficient for the businesses to have the spoons behind the counter. Maybe it’s more cost effective or better business sense for them to have a place where they can pick it out. I absolutely agree with not giving it out, not to put straws on the table when you’re getting water unless you ask for it.”
Mayor Frank McGehee said that eliminating self-service stations would make plastic straws and utensils less accessible and therefore less likely to end up in the environment. Deputy Mayor Dean Dafis agreed but pointed out that even when restaurant employees provide the items from behind the counter, it’s the same as customers serving themselves.
“What’s the difference between the proprietor behind the counter grabbing a whole bunch of stuff and throwing it in your plastic bag with your takeout and someone doing it on their own?” he said at the meeting. “There really is no difference, it’s the same action and it’s the same material that ends up in our stream that we’re trying to eliminate. I don’t know if there is an answer.”
DeLuca felt that the ordinance would be an imposition for businesses that have self-service areas.
“I think we’re at a disadvantage for the businesses by not having something in the ordinance that allows for the self-select area,” he said. “I think by eliminating the ability of a business to automatically put it in a bag or automatically put it on a table, it will reduce waste overall. I don’t want it to negatively affect our local businesses.”
Adams suggested a compromise that would ban plastic straws and stirrers at self-service stations, but that would allow them upon request. Maplewood businesses with food licenses will be notified about the ordinances, and their input can be heard at the first readings of the ordinances on March 3.