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Town council meeting questions commercial use of plastics, styrofoam
March 15, 2019

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SHEPHERDSTOWN - As the United States is becoming aware of the long-term impact of products such as styrofoam, plastic straws and plastic bags, many individuals and businesses are promising to start using alternative, sustainable products. Both the cities of San Francisco, California and Seattle, Washington, have ruled to ban plastic straws, and, in the case of Seattle, ban plastic utensils as well. Even fast food chains, such as McDonalds and Starbucks, are planning on leaving their use of plastic straws in the past within the next few years.

The Corporation of Shepherdstown is keeping up with the pack, by discussing a sustainability proposal made by the Recycling Task Force at Tuesday's town council meeting in the War Memorial Building.

"About a year ago, a few residents got together and started discussing the impact products - primarily styrofoam - have on our environment, because they don't break down over time. This group talked to town businesses to see how they would feel about regulating styrofoam," said Recycling Task Force Chair Chris Stroech.

According to Stroech, after discussing the idea with local businesses, the group decided regulating the use of plastic straws and bags would also be a good idea. They then contacted local businesses and asked them to email the task force with any comments or concerns related to banning or regulating the use of these products in town.

"We got three responses back, largely in favor of regulation of styrofoam, and some on the plastic straws and bags," Stroech said, mentioning that six months after the group started meeting, it was formally organized by the town council.

On Tuesday, about a year-and-a-half had passed since the group's first meeting. Stroech took time during the meeting to explain current version of the Sustainable Shepherdstown Act, before listening to the audience's response.

"Styrofoam will be banned in this act. Plastic straws will only be provided by businesses to customers if they ask for them. We did not think it made sense, at this time, to ban straws entirely," Stroech said, mentioning the additional cost of buying sustainable products was worth it. "Our concern about these products and how they will effect the environment outweighs our concern over the increased costs."

Coffee cups with a styrofoam lining will also be banned under the current act, a year after it is approved by the town council. The businesses who do not comply with the act will be fined no more than $250 for their first violation and no more than $500 for their second violation.

While the regulation of plastic bags and plastic straws was not objected to during the discussion following Stroech's speech, the cost of alternative packaging was brought up by more than one local business owner.

"In the intent of genuine diplomacy, I went around town, although I didn't make it to all of the businesses, and at least five were completely against it," said Pressed Flour's owner, Alisha Hanlin, mentioning her business already uses sustainable products, from their product packaging to their straws. "Nobody likes what we're doing to the environment, but I think this act could use some more tweaking."

Hanlin suggested the town council should not only provide time for businesses to acclimate to the changes, but also find a form of financial compensation for businesses acting according to the regulation.

During the meeting, the town council agreed the act needed to be revised, including needing to defining the banned products. The town council made clear, the act's styrofoam ban will not punish businesses who receive items shipped in styrofoam.

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