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Styrofoam ban poses challenge for restaurants

Brookline residents and restaurants are divided over whether Brookline will benefit or suffer from a recently passed ban of polystyrene, or Styrofoam containers.

The ban passed in a town meeting on Tuesday with 169 town meeting members voting for it and 27 against, forbidding restaurants from using Styrofoam food and beverage containers.

“It seemed to me it was the right thing to do,” said Nancy Heller, the town meeting member who proposed the ban. “We are all concerned about our debt crushing our children, but what kind of crushing environmental debt are we leaving our children?”

Heller said polystyrene offered negative environmental impacts and could take generations to break down. Polystyrene was also added to the U.S. Health Department’s list of carcinogens in June of 2011.

“There are options that are biodegradable — people in 500 years wouldn’t find it,” Heller said.

Harry Friedman, a town meeting member who voted against the ban, said he did not think the ban would hurt Brookline, but did have some concerns over the measure.

“The people from Dunkin’ Donuts have banded around the number of an additional $10,000 in costs to each of their franchisees,” Friedman said. “And that appears to me to be quite a lot for a small business.”

Friedman also said he was not sure how the ban would help from a health point of view.

Heller said she did not foresee extravagant cost addition to restaurants with the ban.

“Dunkin’ Donuts has faced this issue before [in Great Barrington] and it survived with this ban in place,” she said. “Dunkin’ Donuts already produces paper cups that they serve their lattes in.”

But Dunkin’ Donuts has not been able to find a feasible alternative to Styrofoam, according to a statement sent from Dunkin’ Donuts spokeswoman Michelle King in an email.

“Over the past several years, Dunkin’ Donuts has worked diligently to find an alternative for our polystyrene cup that will be truly better for our guests, our franchisees and the environment,” the statement read. “We have reviewed or tested nearly every type of single-use hot cup on the market, but a viable alternative does not yet exist.”

Jim Solomon, the owner and chef of the first certified green restaurant in Boston, the Fireplace in Brookline, said he disagreed that no Styrofoam alternatives exists.

Solomon said he stopped using Styrofoam in his restaurant eight years ago and found a biodegradable alternative.

“I became a certified green restaurant because, although [I am] pro-business, I believe in corporate responsibly,” he said. “I feel that it is my duty as a business owner to be a good citizen of the world.”

Solomon said since he stopped using Styrofoam, he has reduced waste and cut trash pickups from six days a week to three. He said this and other green measures have cut operational costs at the Fireplace by 20 percent.

Dunkin’ Donuts has taken environmental measures to help the environment, although they have not stopped using Styrofoam, according to the statement.

“We have reduced the weight of our polystyrene cup and have offered our franchisees a recyclable mug program,” the statement read. “We will of course comply with the Brookline ordinance, even as we continue our search for a cup that keeps drinks hot, hands cool and is better for the planet.”

Solomon said this ban could spur a town-wide green movement.

“Brookline has the opportunity to become the first green dining community in the country, which would help the town immensely,” he said.

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