Although Oxford City Council delayed passage of an Oxford ordinance to ban the use of polystyrene products from local restaurant carryout operations earlier this month, the issue continues to be a prime concern for council, with most members saying they favor getting rid of the single-use plastics.
Polystyrene, commonly known by the brand-name Styrofoam, is a source of environmental and health concerns because it does not biodegrade easily and contains carcinogens. Its use has been restricted in several communities across the country, including Los Angeles and New York.
Oxford Councilor Chantel Raghu surprised council last month when she introduced an ordinance that would phase out the products for national food service providers by the end of this year and for local, independent businesses by the end of 2021.
The issue had not been referred to the city administration or the city’s Environmental Commission for any study. But because it was introduced by Raghu and seconded by Councilor Jason Bracken, it was scheduled for a second and final reading by council Jan. 7. At that meeting, however, the matter was tabled until it could be reviewed by the city’s law department and considered by the Environmental Commission.
Most councilors agreed they thought it would be a good thing to get rid of polystyrene, but some said they were concerned rushing to pass the ordinance could have the unintended consequence of hurting local businesses.
Councilman Glenn Ellerbe projected as much as a seven-figure economic impact on Oxford, based only on anecdotal data. Bracken and Raghu disputed those figures. With no consensus, the ordinance was tabled.
Meanwhile, the Ohio Legislature is considering a bill that could take the matter out of council’s hands.
House Bill 242 passed the Ohio House Dec. 11, and is now being reviewed by the State Senate. The bill would prevent counties, townships and cities from imposing “a fee, tax, assessment, or other charge on auxiliary containers, on the sales, use, or consumption of such containers.”
It is possible that HB 242 could pass before City Council makes a decision, but Ellerbe said that his concern is more with Oxford, as he has no power in the Senate’s decision.
The proposed city restriction would impose civil and criminal penalties for violations with a $150 fine for each violation of the ordinance.
Ellerbe’s primary concern is that council did not take sufficient steps to notify local businesses and did not present it to the city’s Environmental Commission for consideration. The commission, on which Raghu and Bracken both serve, has scheduled a special meeting on the proposal for 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 23, to consider the matter.
“Bans always precipitate unintended consequences,” said Ellerbe. Having the matter considered by the Environmental Commission before council takes a final vote is an effort to anticipate what those consequences might be for local businesses and the city as a whole.
Restaurant owners such as Andy Amarantos of Skipper’s, 121 E. High St., are trying to determine how the ban would impact their bottom lines.
“We’re still not sure what we’re going to do,” said Amarantos, who co-owns the 35-year-old restaurant with his brother, Terry. “It is hard enough making a living off this when you are only in business for eight months a year,” he said, referring to the local business slow-down that occurs when most Miami students leave town in the summer.
Amarantos says his restaurant uses a substantial number of polystyrene products. Alternatives can be twice as expensive, he said.
If passed, the ordinance would give national food services a phasing out period until December 31, 2020 and other local food service operations, like Skipper’s, until December 31, 2021.
Instead of a phasing out period, Ellerbe would like more time to review the verbiage of the document and to hold conversations with restaurants.
“If we want to establish more environmental policies, we need cooperation and compliance from citizens,” said Ellerbe. “To remove the typical unilateral process that we take in the lawmaking process would be in violation of that trust.”