Everything You Need to Know about a Styrofoam Ban in MA

Two legislators in Massachusetts have sponsored a bill that would eliminate the use of Styrofoam containers in the commonwealth. The bill has been endorsed by eighteen other lawmakers who agree that Styrofoam is harmful to the environment and should no longer be offered to consumers.

Styrofoam Bans Across the United States

Many national chains, including McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts, have already eliminated the use of Styrofoam in their food containers and started using more recyclable materials.

In 2014, Washington, DC, banned the use of Styrofoam, joining many cities who had already done so. Cities and counties in California, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, and Texas have all banned the use of Styrofoam.

massachusetts-possible-ban-styrofoamBPA and the Debated Sins of Styrofoam

One of the biggest concerns with Styrofoam, or polystyrene foam, is that—while cheap to produce and easy to shape—it contains a compound called bisphenol A (BPA). Since the 1960s, BPA has been the go-to ingredient for strengthening plastics like Styrofoam; its durability and simple production made it seem like a no-brainer. At one point, the FDA even declared it to be entirely safe.

However, a number of recent studies have challenged the infallibility of BPA and polystyrene. The two have been linked to hormonal balance, heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, impotence, and developmental issues in fetuses and children.

The arguments from both sides of the BPA debate are admittedly a little blurry. Some experts are adamant that BPA is safe while others vehemently declare it to be a life-threatening compound. Patricia Hunt, a graduate professor and geneticist at Case Western Reserve University, along with a team of 36 other researches, dove into the data. What they found was that, of the hundreds of government-funded studies analyzed, “90 percent had concluded BPA was a health risk. It was the dozen or so industry-funded studies [ . . . ] that failed to replicate other BPA research.” These findings imply that human bias may have a significant effect on the data available to the public.

Some argue that BPA is only unsafe at extreme doses (doses higher than the ones received by eating takeout from a Styrofoam container). However, Hunt mentioned that BPA doesn’t necessarily “play by the rules.” At high doses, BPA may “shut down the body’s response”; smaller doses of BPA may actually be worse for us.

packing peanuts quote harvard

One incontestable fact about BPA is that it negatively impacts our environment. Harvard University writes that “Polystyrene foam is designed for a useful life of minutes or hours, but it continues to exist in our environment for hundreds or thousands of years.” It cannot be recycled (it costs more to recycle than it does to produce), so Styrofoam and Styrofoam products “fill up 30% of landfill space.” It is also manufactured using hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which are known to deplete the ozone layer. The EPA adds that 90% of floating marine litter consists of plastic or polystyrene products.

Polypropylene: A Better Alternative

Polypropylene represents a safer alternative to Styrofoam. It is a versatile, lightweight, heat-resistant polymer resin that is cheap to use and able to be utilized in all kinds of products. It can essentially do everything Styrofoam can. The kicker? Polypropylene does not contain BPA. So, since BPA may or may not be terrible for us (and no one can seem to agree), many would rather not risk it and just use polypropylene instead. Paper, which has been implemented in many Dunkin’ Donuts locations, including Somerville, MA, is another viable solution.


Birch Tree Bread Company, a restaurant based in Worcester, MA, prides itself on only using recycled and/or recyclable material.

Reactions to Styrofoam Bans

Despite the advantages of polypropylene and paper, some restaurants are reluctant to stop using their foam containers; naturally, the Styrofoam industry is also against the ban, noting the thousands of jobs it creates every year. Spokespeople for the industry argue that there are six Styrofoam recycling centers in Massachusetts and that more could be added in order to better handle Styrofoam waste in the state.

Effective January 2014, Amherst, MA, implemented a bylaw that bans restaurants from using Styrofoam containers, citing their environmental hazards and health risks. They also add that one of the key ingredients in Styrofoam, styrene, is a recognized carcinogen.

Amherst’s town website reports that, from a business perspective, the biggest issue with switching to polypropylene or other environmentally friendly materials is cost. The other materials do tend to be more expensive (though there are efforts to address that), so if the bill does become law, MA businesses will have to “absorb a few cents of additional cost for recyclable or compostable take-out containers.” While a few cents may not seem like much, it can add up for small businesses just getting off the ground.

New York City implemented their own Styrofoam ban on July 1, 2015. Mayor Bill de Blasio told MSNBC, “These products cause real environmental harm and have no place in New York City.” Opponents of the new rule in NYC have begun a petition against it, saying it is unnecessarily expensive and inconvenient for small businesses. A Long Beach, CA, school district that actually switched from biodegradable food trays to Styrofoam trays has since saved about $1 million each year.

Many cities in Massachusetts have joined Amherst and NYC’s effort to eliminate Styrofoam. Brookline, Great Barrington, Brookline, and Somerville, MA, have all banned Styrofoam in their communities.

Where do you stand? Is Styrofoam worth banning or should MA keep it around?


MA Craft Beer Industry Pours Money Into the Massachusetts Economy

According to a report compiled by John Dunham & Associates, more than 25,900 new jobs in the commonwealth could be directly attributed to the the growing MA craft beer industry. Not only has craft brewing brought a rush of jobs into Massachusetts, it has generated over $2.5 billion in sales and taxes for the commonwealth.

MA Craft Breweries: Profit by the Barrel

Craft beer is a growing industry throughout the country—it has grown by 32% over the past few years. Simultaneously, though, large companies like Anheuser-Busch have seen their market shares decrease by as much as 7%. American beer palates seem to be evolving—or have at least begun to align more closely with the flavors of smaller craft breweries. In 1980, the Brewers Association reported that there were just 50 craft breweries in the country. As of June 2015, that number has risen to 3,739.


Craft Brewing’s Early Days in Massachusetts

There is disagreement about the official “beginning” of the craft beer business, but it has early roots in Massachusetts. In the mid-1980s, Jim Koch went door-to-door in Boston selling his family’s home brew to local bars. He then founded the Boston Beer Company, following the huge success of his flagship beer, Samuel Adams. The company, which recorded a gross 2014 profit of over $465 million, is still dedicated to the growth of the MA craft beer industry. Early in 2015, the Boston Beer Company partnered with Accion to offer microloans of between $500 and $25,000 to small breweries. They also sponsor a hops-sharing program that helps smaller breweries obtain the hops necessary to brew India Pale Ales (IPA), one of the most popular styles of beer.

MA Craft Beer Taps Into Other Industries

Craft beer sales have significantly improved the Massachusetts economy in a number of ways. Twenty-nine cents of every dollar spent on craft beer in Massachusetts go toward personal and business taxes paid by brewers—that’s $766 million in additional tax revenue. Craft brewing has had a ripple effect on other industries as well. The agricultural industry, for example, benefits from brewers’ incorporation of fruits, vegetables, spices, and other seasonings into their beers. This experimentation has catalyzed a flux of new brews that were previously unavailable. Construction companies and contractors have been hired to renovate old warehouses and abandoned buildings into breweries, like Abandoned Building Brewery in Easthampton, MA. The manufacturing industry has benefitted from craft brewing’s bottling, canning, and labeling processes. In Massachusetts alone, brewing has created over 7,000 supplier jobs.


Guests enjoy food and brew at Mayflower Brewery Company in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Craft Brewing Expected to Grow Lager and Lager

As a growing industry, craft brewing has created a nationwide economic swell, with microbreweries cropping up in towns and cities across the United States. Not sure where to start? Visit a local Massachusetts craft brewery today. Recommend your favorite beers in the comments below!

Craft brewing has shaped up to be a hugely profitable and flourishing industry. We don’t know about you, but we’ll toast to that. Cheers!


SNAP System Leaves Recipients Hungry for Change

The system of food stamp benefits available in Massachusetts is known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Lately, this system has been coming under fire as it has proven inadequate to meet the basic needs of poorer and elderly residents in the state.

An Increasingly Bitter Cause Of Controversy

While the system of food stamp benefits has always been the center of much controversy, particularly among more conservative politicians and voters in the state, the basic system that governs food stamps eligibility is also beginning to become the focus of increasingly bitter and partisan attention.

The delivery of food stamps in the state of Massachusetts has been interrupted or halted altogether on more than one occasion, and the lack of proper supervision of the state’s SNAP and EBT programs has caused recrimination and the “blame game” to ensue. Meanwhile, many individuals and families are having to tighten their belts even further, as food stamps and other forms of assistance become increasingly more scarce. Many families are going without assistance of any kind.

Unwarranted Reductions Are Causing Hardship

SNAP food stamps

Food Drive employees help a food stamp recipient pick out items.

There have been seemingly unwarranted reductions and interruptions of service that are causing severe hardship for families and individuals dependent on these benefits throughout the state. The Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) is bearing the brunt of criticism as a result of its decision to make severe, and in the eyes of some, completely reckless revisions in its processing policy. For example there have been issues with the new computer program’s filtering applications and the phone system that was designed to accommodate 6,000 each day was overwhelmed receiving roughly 20,000 calls per day. In addition, staffing decisions were made to support phone service and document processing rather than increasing the number of client caseworkers.

These policies govern the fate of those who receive food stamps from the DTA, causing many to be considered “unqualified” who would have been routinely accepted prior to the implementation of these reforms. Also, the failure on the part of the DTA to process client claims in the the designated 30 day window has caused claims to be closed automatically leaving those in need of benefits without any. Their only recourse is to spend hours on the phone being transferred from person to person only to receive insufficient answers and wait for a failed system to fix itself. As a result, the process of food stamp renewal for those who have been on the program for an extended period of time is also adversely affected.

The Race Is On To Reverse The Damage

As things stand, the race is now on to reverse the effects of these ill considered reforms. The hope is that the much needed revisions can be made to fix the basic SNAP system before it proves to be irrevocably broken. However, due to the mountains of red tape that the system has accumulated over the years, it may be sometime before relief reaches the families that the snafu has inconvenienced or even endangered.

Municipalities Want to Open the Tap on Liquor Licenses

New restaurants constitute a significant economic development opportunity on the local level. Large-scale retail and commercial retail development plans often include restaurant spaces as part of the overall project.

In Massachusetts, municipalities have liquor license caps set by the Legislature. Because of this, an increasing number of Massachusetts cities and towns are running into a persistent obstacle to development plans that include bars and restaurants: they simply don’t have any more liquor licenses to award.

The lack of available liquor licenses in some cities and towns has forced developers and municipal economic development officials to put projects on hold while they seek special legislation to authorize additional licenses.

The current system creates a barrier to development and thrusts state lawmakers into the position of middlemen between developers and local planners.


The lack of available liquor licenses has forced developers to put projects on hold.

State Rep. Colleen Garry, a Democrat representing Dracut, recently asked a legislative committee to grant more than a dozen new licenses at once to accommodate planned and anticipated restaurant development in Tyngsborough. If her request is successful, other cities and towns at or near their state caps would likely seek a supply of new liquor licenses to facilitate future development, as well.

Tyngsborough officials have said an envisioned business corridor, which must include new restaurants to thrive, could serve as an economic engine for the area, State House News Service reported.

Ms. Garry said restaurant developers require a greater level of certainty about whether liquor licenses are available before investing time and money into plans that could end up hinging on the vagaries of Beacon Hill politics.

Her bill would carve out a supply of 14 additional licenses for the town, with the condition that they may not be transferred for three years after they’re issued by the town. The provision was added to limit the possibility of developers seeking the valuable licenses to flip for profit, rather than to use long term.

Stop & Shop and Hannaford – The Makings of an Arranged Marriage

The parent companies of regional grocery giants Stop & Shop and Hannaford have been looking into combining their operations under one umbrella for quite some time, but they may have a small roadblock in that plan – the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The shareholders of Royal Ahold and the Delhaize Group were quite enthusiastic about news of a possible merger, demonstrating their assent by way of a significant rise in both stock prices. However, some officials here in Massachusetts think antitrust issues may bring the entire affair to a screeching halt.

Hannaford has 25 stores in Massachusetts and another 131 fly the Stop & Shop banner. Like many brick-and-mortar competitors in other industries, they are often set up in close proximity to each other and officials fear this will lead to problems with fair competition following the proposed merger.

Both companies do more than 60% of their commerce in the US. While Ahold, parent company of Stop & Shop, has properties mostly clustered in the Northeast, Delhaize does most of its business in the U.S. as Food Lion, a Southeastern regional powerhouse. Analysts say that a merger would realize somewhere in the neighborhood of $670 million per year in reduced costs.

Massachusetts officials are far more concerned with the issues of competition. Economists who favor the position of the state are saying that the merger could go off without a hitch if some of the stores were sold. Everything is speculative at the moment, however, with both sides looking for a way to compromise.

It is unclear whether the merger of the two companies would result in a name change. Both brands are valued in the state, and part of the issue rests in trying to determine what will happen with the customer-facing side of the brand.

Keep your eyes on this space for updates.

Burgers and Kale? – Fast Food Takes a Healthy Twist in Boston

Ever heard of a fast food burger joint that sells fruit smoothies – and kale? Well, you have now.

Meet Jon Olinto and Anthony Ackil, childhood friends and co-owners of the Boston-based b.good fast food chain.

Started in 2004, b.good’s goal was to sell high-quality fare, proving that fast food can still be real food. The pair started with burgers and fries and was focusing on growth when Olinto realized the gourmet burger market was rapidly becoming saturated.

The company quickly expanded its offerings to include items like acai berry smoothies, kale and quinoa, reaching out and grabbing the business of even those who rarely eat hamburgers.

While hamburgers and fries are still on the menu, the addition of healthier choices has proven successful – 2014 sales are up 25 percent over 2013 at all locations that have been open for a year or longer.

As of New Year’s Day when the latest addition to the chain opens, there will be 19 b.good locations. The chain plans to add another 10 to 15 locations in 2015 in various areas, including the South Boston waterfront area, Connecticut and New Jersey.

No matter which b.good location customers visit, they can be sure that the food they are eating is local. The restaurant purchases food from farms within driving distance and post the food’s source on a chalkboard so customers know where it came from.

While some stores are corporate owned and other are franchises, all offer traditional shakes and burgers as well as healthy choices for the more diet-conscious. No matter what menu item you choose, b.good makes sure you get real food real fast.