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Thanks to high school environmentalists, York bans single-use plastic utensils

Single-use plastic utensils.
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
Flickr/Creative Commons
Single-use plastic utensils.

York voters Saturday approved an ordinance to ban single-use plastic utensils and straws.

A group of high school environmentalists successfully pushed their community to become the first Maine town to ban disposable plastic utensils. Residents of York voted to pass the ordinance in a special election on Saturday.

The unofficial results were 2,192 votes in favor of the ordinance and 1,556 opposed.

The ordinance requires restaurants in York provide non-plastic foodware to customers. They must also provide compostable utensils, straws and stir sticks.

The ban was first introduced by the members of Eco Club at York High School. The group originally met with the town select board last Spring to get the measure on the ballot for the November 2023 election. Though the effort proved unsuccessful, the board decided to create a study committee to examine the issue and gather more community input. The town officials invited three students from Eco Club to participate on the committee.

Club member Chloe Whitbread, a Junior at York High School was part of the town Study Committee. She said the club campaigned in the leadup to Saturday’s election.

"We got cards printed up with information [and] got an ad in the newspaper," said Whitbread. "We definitely tried our hardest to spread the word and talked to every adult we knew was a York voter, and just tried to share the information we had."

York became the first town in Maine to ban single-use plastic bags almost a decade ago in 2015. Taylor Maguire, the environmental planner for the town of York, said she thinks other Maine towns will adopt similar measures.

"This is the first ordinance [passed] in Maine to have this kind of ban, so it’s really great to be a trailblazer," said Maguire. "But I think it’s important to note that [the ban] is certainly not out of the blue. I think this is where everyone is going to be shifting. There’s so much information backing this up, it just seems like the next logical step."

The ordinance goes into effect starting in 2025 and includes a sunset clause at the end of 2026 to gauge public reception.

Updated: May 20, 2024 at 5:58 PM EDT
Nick Song is Maine Public's inaugural Emerging Voices Fellowship Reporter.

Originally from Southern California, Nick got his start in radio when he served as the programming director for his high school's radio station. He graduated with a degree in Journalism and History from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University -- where he was Co-News Director for WNUR 89.3 FM, the campus station.