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Last Tuesday, several Fayetteville City Council members eagerly embraced Teresa Turk's proposal to ban city purchases of single-use products made with expanded polystyrene foam -- what most people refer to by a brand name, Styrofoam.

Their eagerness inspired them to push for more. Ward 2's Matthew Petty said it made him think "the time might be right to go all the way."

What’s the point?

The city of Fayetteville should try a ban on its own expanded polystyrene foam purchases first, then involve the public in a thorough study of the impact of a farther-reaching ban that goes beyond city government.

Whoa! This isn't a new version of American Pie. Let's slow things down a bit.

In fact, when City Council member Sarah Marsh offered an amendment to exclude construction material, she perhaps unintentionally reflected why the measure wasn't ready to be approved: It hasn't been fully researched.

Maine became the first state in the nation on April 30 to ban single-use containers from coffee shops, restaurants and other businesses. The product really makes its own case for being banned. It can't be recycled like many plastics or glass and will linger in landfills for decades before it breaks down partially, just enough to further pollute the environment.

In Arkansas, Little Rock last year passed a resolution banning the purchase with city money of products made of polystyrene foam. Turk thought a similar move would fit Fayetteville's disposition on waste, recycling, reuse, conservation and the like.

Turk herself put the brakes on her colleagues' eagerness to expand the ban. We don't presume to put words in her mouth, but it appeared she recognized a reality: A broader ban ought not be embraced on a whim. That's our thought, not necessarily hers.

But we appreciated the breather she advocated.

The City Council has every right to set limits for the kinds of products city tax dollars will be spent on or which kinds of products vendors, concessionaires and the like can use on public property. That's a fairly limited discussion and a focused impact.

Once someone starts talking about a stronger ban, one that goes beyond city government and starts interfering with what private companies or individuals do, that is, or should be, the kind of sweeping change that deserves research and careful deliberation.

As smart as City Council members are, they have no idea how a sweeping ban would impact local businesses. The city just started discussing the city-only ban. Nobody has demonstrated they've done the kind of extensive evaluation city residents and business owners deserve if a broader ban is to be considered.

In anything the City Council does or chooses not to do, its members need to cherish and maintain a reputation as a body that doesn't make major changes affecting constituents and businesses without serious deliberation and debate. As convinced as they may be that they're in the right, council members also need to recognize their responsibility to seek out feedback from the public and affected businesses and to help influence the public's perspective, if they want a particular action taken. Clubbing people over the head with a sudden decision isn't leadership. Convincing people of the need for change is.

Turk's proposal, if it is to be expanded, deserves intense and intentional research and public discussion.

Our recommendation is that the city start with a ban affecting its own operations. That is, lead by example first, and see where it goes from there.

Commentary on 05/12/2019

Print Headline: Lead, first, by example

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