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Portsmouth Council May Postpone Its Ban On Single-Use Plastics Due To Pandemic

Portsmouth is closer to postponing its first-in-the-state ban on certain single-use plastics, after the city council voted Monday to advance the proposed delay to a final reading later this month.

The new rules were set to take effect at the end of this year and would be the first municipal ban on plastics in New Hampshire, and one of a growing number in the country. 

One ordinance bans most city businesses from giving out polystyrene containers in most circumstances. The other prevents the distribution of most single-use plastic straws, bags and containers, but only on city property.

The council approved the ordinances last year, but has not yet finalized related fees and enforcement mechanisms.

Portsmouth Mayor Rick Becksted proposed pushing the rules' start date back to December 2022, saying enforcing them starting in January would be too great a burden for the council and local businesses during the pandemic.

“We have very important issues right now ahead of us, way more than anything including this,” Becksted said Monday. “The last thing we want to do is create confusion for our businesses and our residents.”

Becksted was critical of the ordinances as a councilor when they were first proposed. He said he now understands their goals, but doesn’t feel they should be addressed right now.

Several public commenters and councilors argued the bans’ environmental benefits should be the biggest priority. 

“I understand the position [restaurants] are in – it’s a terrible, horrible position – but we’re also in a pretty terrible, horrible position as a global organism here,” said resident Andrew Bagley during Monday’s public hearing. “It’s up to you as a council to look after our environment.”

Plastic products are derived from fossil fuels, so their production drives the oil and gas extraction and use that worsen the harmful effects of climate change.

Single-use plastics are rarely recycled and end up in landfills, which also cause climate-warming emissions, or as litter that’s detrimental to public health and ecosystems.

Portsmouth councilors debated enacting their plastic bans in stages, by limiting their enforcement during 2021, but ultimately decided to only vote on the two-year postponement. City councilor Deaglan McEachern voted against it.

“I can’t support moving this forward because it doesn’t seem to be solving a problem that is in front of us,” he said. “It seems as though it’s trying to relitigate a problem that we’ve already decided.”

The postponement plans get a final vote at the city council’s next virtual meeting on Dec. 21.

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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