Businesses Weigh In On Portsmouth's Proposed Single-Use Plastics Ban

Apr 29, 2019

Portsmouth city councilor Josh Denton shows off a partly compostable take-out container at a panel discussion Friday.
Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR

Businesses in Portsmouth have mixed reviews for a proposed ban on single-use plastics in the city.

It's the fourth year Portsmouth has been considering introducing such a policy, aimed at reducing plastic pollution and litter. A handful of communities are considering similar bans.

Portsmouth city councilor Josh Denton said at a recent panel discussion that the latest version of the proposal would bar businesses from distributing things like plastic shopping bags and straws, with some exceptions.

It would also encourage businesses to provide compostable alternatives, and require them to charge customers 10 cents for using non-compostable paper containers.

Keith Tharp runs the nonprofit Sustainable Seacoast, which works with local businesses on reducing waste. He says the fee aims to both reimburse businesses and change behavior.

"Part of it is trying to get us to realize that these things are a resource,” he says. “They're not just free, even if the store provides it to you for free."

If the Portsmouth ban passes later this year, officials say it will include a year of public education and ramp-up before any penalties take effect.

But business owners like John Desmond are worried. Desmond runs Portsmouth’s Kilwins ice cream franchise with his mother, and he fears the change could put them out of business.

“On a personal level, we both are on board with this,” Desmond says. “But at the end of the day, you can’t drink a milkshake through a paper straw.”

Desmond says Kilwins requires the use a lot of branded paper and plastic containers, and customers aren't accustomed to bringing reusable alternatives.

Denton, the city councilor, says they’re aware of the concerns of small businesses like Desmond’s. He says the plan is likely to change before it’s finalized for a vote.

Part of that depends on the outcome of a state legislative proposal that would bar all businesses from giving out plastic straws unless a customer requests one. That bill goes for a vote in a state Senate committee Tuesday.

Two related bills, which would have expressly permitted municipalities like Portsmouth to institute their own bans on single-use plastics, stalled in a House committee last month.

Denton says the state has said it wouldn’t immediately challenge Portsmouth’s ban if it took effect.

A few other states have instituted versions of a plastic bag or straw ban. Maine’s legislature is also currently considering such a change.