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Portsmouth Styrofoam Ban Takes Effect, With Little Enforcement For Now

Robert Geiger
Flickr Creative Commons

Portsmouth is the first community in the state to ban some single-use plastics as of Thursday, but the city’s new rules won’t be fully enforced just yet.

The city council voted last year to bar most restaurants and businesses from distributing polystyrene cups and containers, beginning at the end of 2020.

In addition, vendors on city property – such as the farmer’s market or concessions at a school sports game – are barred from giving out most single-use plastic straws, bags and containers.

Nonprofits and food stamp or WIC users are among those exempt from the rules. Plastic bags can also still be distributed on city property as a safety precaution, or with a surcharge of 10 cents.

The city council recently voted against a proposal to delay these plans by a year. Mayor Rick Becksted had raised concerns about adding pressure for businesses affected by the pandemic.

Supporters of the ordinances, including Portsmouth high schoolers, turned out to urge against the delay. They say the rules will help reduce litter and the waste and plastic production that drive climate change.

But the city council decided not to impose fines or citations for violations of the rules until Sept. 30. Details of those enforcement mechanisms will be set later in the year.

Until then, starting Thursday, the city will hand out verbal and written warnings to help businesses get used to the change.

“The key part of the warnings is really education,” said Portsmouth staff attorney Trevor McCourt. “It’s educating people about the new ordinance and the effect that these kinds of plastics and Styrofoams have in our community.”

Businesses are still free to use up their 2020 stock of items Styrofoam containers and other items that will be affected by the bans.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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