Somerville’s Getting Serious About Their New Styrofoam Ban

Businesses will first get a friendly warning, but could later face stiff fines.

Beginning in October, officials from Somerville’s Inspectional Services Department will finally begin scouting food establishments around the city to warn them that citations will be issued to any business that violates the new expanded polystyrene—better known as Styrofoam—ban that was enacted last year.

In a notice that went out to restaurants, delis, food trucks, and other food-related businesses in August, the city alerted those still slinging food and drinks in the now-banned material that workers conducting routine inspections will be encouraging them to start transitioning to alternative containers for customers.

More than 500 businesses all around Somerville were handed the detailed letters along with a factsheet outlining the prohibition of the commercial use of Styrofoam.

“Businesses are being encouraged to contact their current vendors to see what alternative options are available. Many businesses in Somerville have already transitioned to foam container alternatives, and all are required to comply,” according to a statement from Denise Taylor, Somerville’s director of communications.

In a follow-up interview, Taylor said ISD workers would first be giving business owners a warning during pre-operational inspections, routine inspections, and food license renewals. After that, any business caught using Styrofoam containers could be slapped with a $100 fine, and a third and subsequent violation could result in a $300 fine.

“Everyone gets inspected every six months, so it’s on a staggered schedule,” Taylor said of the upcoming inspections that begin in October. “Everyone’s on a different schedule, so some businesses will have people show up sooner than others, depending on that schedule.”

The Board of Aldermen unanimously passed the polystyrene ban ordinance in May 2013, and it was supposed to go into effect a year later. But due to a transition in the Office of Sustainability and Environment, the city has been slow to adapt to its own new law.

“We needed to get [the new director] settled in [in July], and needed to get everyone informed first to make this transition easy for businesses,” Taylor said of the delay in implementation.

In July, Somerville Neighborhood News reporters went out to 10 establishments and found that six of them were still using Styrofoam, but the city said that was to be expected—for now.

The city expects there will be a backlog for many restaurants around Somerville who still have Styrofoam products in stock, and they don’t want them to toss them in the garbage. “The idea is to move forward with our environmental goal without making it burdensome for our businesses,” said Taylor.