Tim Timke dips a french fry into a plastic ketchup container while eating takeout with his wife, Tracy, at the Oceanside Store along Long Sands Beach in York on Friday. The container, and other single-use plastics – including utensils and straws – could soon be banned under a new proposal from a group of York High School students. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Plastic utensils, containers, cups and straws are ubiquitous in takeout restaurants in the beachside town of York – but could soon become taboo if voters enact a proposal to ban the sale and use of all single-use plastic foodware at local businesses.

It’s an idea from the Eco Club at York High School, which already eliminated the use of plastic utensils in the school cafeteria.

“We have serious concerns about the impacts of plastic pollution on our future health and safety,” student Chloe Whitbread told the Select Board during a recent meeting. “We are taking the lead in creating an ordinance that will benefit the citizens and visitors of York, reduce the cost of solid waste disposal, and protect our environment.”

The proposal, which would need approval from town voters, would be among the most restrictive sets of rules around single-use plastics by restaurants and businesses in the country. In addition to banning the use of products like plastic straws and cups in restaurants, it would prevent stores from selling those products in bulk. It would not, however, prevent people from using them in their own homes.

Bans on single-use plastic products in restaurants have been enacted outside Maine in recent years: Los Angeles banned plastic at restaurants and bars last year, and a similar measure passed in 2019 in Sausalito, California.

Laws that only ban or restrict plastic straws are more common – they’ve been implemented in Vermont and California, as well as cities in other states.


Portland became the first Maine city to ban the distribution of plastic drinking straws, splash sticks and beverage stirrers starting on Jan. 1, 2021, with exemptions for people with disabilities or a medical need. The city estimated at the time that 100,000 plastic straws were used daily in the city.

There has long been a focus in York on policies aimed at protecting the environment. The town passed bans on single-use plastic bags in 2015 and polystyrene foam food containers in 2019, before the state enacted bans on those products.

“York has demonstrated a commitment to environmental leadership and has been a model for other towns, cities and the state of Maine,” Maxine Adelson, a York High School Eco Club member, told town leaders last month while presenting the ordinance for the first time.

Eliminating single-use plastics could be a marketing tool for the town and make some people more excited about visiting, Whitbread said.

“Being an environmentally conscious town opens you up to a new demographic York may not have been marketable to before,” she said.

On Friday afternoon, lunch customers at The Oceanside Store near Long Sands Beach picked up takeout orders packed with plastic utensils and straws.


Tim Timke dips a french fry into a plastic ketchup container Friday. The container, and other single-use plastics, including utensils and straws could soon be banned under a new proposal from a group of York High School students. The Timkes, visiting Maine from New York, said they support the idea. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Tim and Tracy Timke sat at a picnic table outside the store and dipped their french fries into ketchup in a small plastic cup that would be banned under the ordinance. The couple, who were visiting from New York, said they like the idea of getting rid of single-use plastic products, but acknowledged it could add extra costs for businesses that would have to raise prices for customers.

“You don’t mind paying it because you’re on vacation,” Tim Timke said.


The ordinance developed by the Eco Club would prohibit the distribution, sale and use of single-use plastic foodware in stores, restaurants and municipal facilities and at all town-sponsored activities.

It would require reusable dishes and utensils to be used when dish-washing facilities are available. Restaurants that offer mostly takeout – including coffee shops and food trucks – would be required to create and promote a program that incentivizes customers to bring their own reusable cups.

It doesn’t go so far as to ban plastic condiment packets, but businesses would only be able to hand them out by request.


People with a disability would be allowed to bring and use their own single-use straws at a restaurant or municipal facility. It also would exempt health care and congregate care facilities, but would encourage them to comply.

Businesses that do not comply could face a written warning, then a $250 fine for the first offense and $500 for all subsequent offenses. The ordinance would go into effect one year after it is approved.

During their discussion with the board, Whitbread and Adelson highlighted the high use of single-use plastics in the United States: More than 100 million plastic utensils and 500 million straws are used each day.

Phyllis Fox, owner of Fox’s Lobster House near Nubble Light in York, opposes the ban on single-use plastics ban proposed by a group of York High School students for the town. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Whitbread, 16, said it’s a social and environmental justice issue because it disproportionately burdens people of color. Petrochemical plants are disproportionately located in communities of color, single-use products are popular in underserved communities because prices of those products are kept artificially low, and communities of color have historically been targeted for landfill and incineration sites, she said.

“We feel we have a duty to protect towns that aren’t as privileged as York,” she said. “It’s our responsibility to make a difference. A lot of us strive to make the world a better place and strive to leave it better than we found it.”

Select Board members questioned how aspects of the ordinance would work and how the new regulations would be communicated to the 50,000 tourists who visit each year. They also expressed some concern about how it would impact small businesses – from both cost and labor perspectives – and encouraged the Eco Club to talk with local businesses.


Whitbread said discussions with local business owners in the past couple weeks have mostly been positive because many people share the goal of wanting to protect the environment. The Eco Club’s goal is not to penalize businesses, she said.

Adelson, 16, said some are already switching to compostable straws or eliminating plastic containers. She knows it will be a bigger adjustment for others, but feels that change is necessary to reduce microplastics that are damaging ecosystems.

“At this point, it’s such a big issue that it has to be taken to this (town-wide) level,” she said. “Individual habits and actions aren’t enough at this point to change overall behavior.”

Dipping sauce containers and lids are piled in bins at the Fat Tomato, a takeout cafe in York, on Thursday. A group of York High School students have proposed the town adopt an ordinance banning single-use plastics. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer


The restrictions would also apply to stores like Hannaford that sell single-use plastic foodware directly to consumers.

Spokesperson Caitlin Cortelyou said the grocery chain follows all local laws and regulations and is committed to switching to more sustainable products.


“We are actively engaged in conversations with York community members about our sustainability goals and would welcome a discussion with the York High School Eco Club about our efforts, which include making our private brand products 100 percent reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, as well as increasing the use of recycled content by 25 percent by 2025,” Cortelyou said in an email.

Dan Poulin, an owner of Fat Tomato Grill in York Village, supports the proposal and the students behind it.

“I’m a big proponent of the little blue ball we live on. I’m hopeful it’s this generation that figures out how to make real headway,” he said this week as he waited for the lunch rush to start.

Dan Poulin, owner of the Fat Tomato in York Village supports the students’ effort but says there aren’t viable alternatives yet for some plastic items, like coffee cup lids. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Poulin recognizes that these changes would come at a cost, but feels it is important to be more environmentally friendly. Many customers are already eco-conscious and want the businesses they support to be the same, he said.

There are already some good alternatives to plastic available, but not for everything, Poulin said. He can easily replace the plastic clamshell takeout boxes he uses at his restaurant, but it’s harder to find a suitable alternative for the individual cups used for dipping sauces, he said.

Poulin has already asked his vendors to look into alternative products, and he met with the students to talk about their proposal.


“My advice to them was get what you can and make the changes we can accomplish,” Poulin said.

Phyllis Fox, owner of Fox’s Lobster House near Nubble Light, believes there are bigger things to worry about than adding more regulations for businesses. Individual containers like the ones her restaurant uses for condiments are sanitary, efficient and convenient, she said.

Alternatives that are already on the market, including paper straws, don’t always hold up, Fox said. And at businesses like the ice cream shop her husband owns, plastic spoons are necessary, she said.

“It’s only going to drive up the cost of doing business,” she said. “People need something to eat with when they take food to go.”

Khone Samasy, owner of Pattaya Thai at York Beach, said she makes plastic utensils available to customers but does not automatically put them in takeout orders. She said she’d have no problem complying with the new rules if they are enacted.

Town Manager Peter Joseph said York is in the very early stages of considering the ordinance. After the student presentation to the Select Board last month, the town scheduled a public hearing for July 24 at the York Library. Based on public feedback, the board could decide to put the proposal on the November ballot.

The decision about whether to send it to voters would likely come by the end of summer, Joseph said.

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