York High School seniors in the Advanced Political and Legal Studies are working to pass an ordinance banning polystyrene containers in the town. Pictured from left: Sammi Pooler, Margaret Wilkinson, Sophie Eytel and Anya Walsh. Credit: Ioanna Raptis | The York Weekly

Four York High School seniors are taking democracy and a concern for the environment to heart, and have launched an online petition drive to ban polystyrene takeout containers from being used by restaurants in York.

Margaret Wilkinson, Sophia Eytel, Anya Walsh and Sammi Pooler, all students in the school’s advanced political and legal studies class, said now that the town is used to the plastic bag ban, a polystyrene measure is the logical next step. And to date, more than 1,600 people agree with them and have signed their petition.

Styrofoam is an oft-used brand name for a kind of polystyrene product.

“I grew up in York and our community is built off of the pretty beaches,” Walsh said. “In the summer, a huge part of our economy is based on tourism. You see Styrofoam containers on the beaches and it doesn’t put us in a very good light.”

“I was wondering what we could do (for a class project), and I started thinking about Styrofoam,” Eytel added. “It’s so archaic, and it’s always bothered me.”

Moreover, said Wilkinson, if the containers are washed to sea, they break down into small particles that various sea creatures can ingest. The students had thought about undertaking a beach cleanup for their project, “but that’s not addressing the root of the issue. The root is Styrofoam. We’re done looking at it,” Wilkinson said.

The students settled on a takeout container ban for the purposes of their class project. But they would like to take it further to include other products such as coffee and ice cream cups as they pursue efforts to get such a measure on the ballot in May.

“Think about all those ice cream containers,” Walsh said.

“We’re 100 percent considering expanding it,” Eytel said.

They plan to meet with Town Manager Steve Burns in the next few weeks, with the goal of talking with him about what steps they would need to take. They point to other towns in Maine that have instituted polystyrene bans — such as Freeport, Portland, South Portland and Brunswick.

“This is not new,” Pooler said. “A lot of communities have made this switch.”

But while they may have garnered more than 1,600 electronic signatures on their petition, which they intend to use to strengthen their case as they present their proposal to the Board of Selectmen, they also learned not everyone feels the same way.

They put a link to the petition on the York Community Dialogue Facebook page recently, garnering more than 500 responses from community members, not all encouraging.

While he said he applauds the students for their “out-of-the-box thinking,” one man replied “the underlying message here is someone is advocating taking something away from all of us.” Said another, “Let’s keep everyone’s freedoms of choice, but enforce the littering laws we already have in place.” “Have you ever noticed that ‘progressive’ agendas always involve taking something away from us or enacting another law?” said another.

But to quote another person who posted on Facebook, “You guys are doing a great job. There’s a lot of people in this town who are very resistant to change… Don’t let them get you down.”

Meanwhile the students, who were a bit taken aback at the number of comments, said they are not deterred.

“I could understand if you didn’t agree with the bag ban. That’s a big change,” Walsh said. “Groceries can fall out of paper bags, I get it. But with Styrofoam, you’re still getting your food in a container. It’s just a different container. Nothing is going to be taken away from you.”

Wilkinson said their research shows there are paper containers that would cost less than half a cent more than Styrofoam products, “and as more towns start doing this, prices will drop even further.”

Pooler said she believes if they can get a measure on the ballot in May, it will pass. “I think this town does care about the environment. We have a lot of support,” she said.

To access the online petition, visit www.change.org and search for York, Maine, Styrofoam ban.

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