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MailTribune.com
  • Student makes Styrofoam ban his cause

    St. Mary's student says he despises Styrofoam in nature, and he's helping lead an effort to ban it
  • Sam Becker says Styrofoam is the bane of his existence.
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  • Sam Becker says Styrofoam is the bane of his existence.
    The 18-year-old St. Mary's School student has spent years cleaning up the Greenway and Bear Creek, hauling out discarded cups and containers made of polystyrene foam, or Styrofoam as it is commonly called.
    "I came to despise the way it looks in nature," said Becker, the school's student body president.
    To eradicate what he considers a plague on the local environment, Becker helped file a proposed ballot initiative with the city of Medford on July 10 that would ban food vendors from selling or providing disposable containers made out of Styrofoam.
    Similar bans on Styrofoam have been enacted in other communities around the country, including in Ashland.
    The proposed Medford ban would have a hardship clause allowing businesses that generate less than $300,000 annually to continue using Styrofoam. Also, a business that's unable find a cheaper alternative could continue to use Styrofoam.
    Becker hopes to soon start collecting the 5,976 signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot for November.
    Becker said he tried to file the ballot title himself, but the city told him he wasn't eligible because, although he attends school in Medford, he lives in Talent.
    Medford resident Jesse Botens, who is on the newly formed Environmental Committee to Outlaw Styrofoam, offered to file and is listed as chief petitioner on the ballot title.
    Other members of the anti-Styrofoam committee include Maddie Murphy, Nolan Peard, Sophia Dewing, Viv Juncal, Jack Feinberg and Elise Vasey.
    Becker said he decided to seek the ban in Medford because he spends most of his day here and has seen first-hand the problems associated with Styrofoam. Also, he said, a ban in Medford, the largest city in the valley, would have more of a positive impact on the environment.
    Various studies have determined fish are ingesting polystyrene, and the U.S. National Toxicology Program in 2011 found styrene, the key ingredient in polystyrene products, is "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen."
    Becker said, "It can be a very negative and deleterious thing for humans."
    Also, very little Styrofoam is recycled locally, so it usually ends up in the landfill, he said.
    Many fast-food chains, including McDonald's, have stopped using Styrofoam containers in response to environmental concerns.
    Becker said using paper products for food containers also helps the Oregon logging and paper products industry.
    Becker's measure is the first initiative to be presented to the city of Medford since the early 2000s.
    "It's been a long time," said City Recorder Glenda Wilson.
    She said petitioners are required to collect signatures from 15 percent of the city's registered voters to qualify for the November ballot.
    Wilson said petitioners probably will need to collect about 6,500 signatures in all because some signers are likely to be disqualified for not being not registered voters.
    Councilor Daniel Bunn said Becker contacted him a few months ago to see if the council would consider enacting an ordinance banning Styrofoam. He said that's unlikely.
    "The council probably wouldn't want to get involved unless there is a large outcry of support from businesses," Bunn said.
    Bunn initially questioned whether a ban on Styrofoam is appropriate for a local government to impose. However, he said, after some reflection, there are sufficient environmental and other concerns that make him feel a ban could benefit the public.
    "It's a good issue to go to ballot," he said. "If the community wants to go this route, let's do it."
    For more information about the initiative: http://www.change.org/petitions/ban-polystyrene-foam-food-packaging.
    Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.
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