Environment America Blog

Portsmouth and polystyrene: What smaller communities bring to the fight against foam

By Michaela Morris
Associate, Oceans, Environment America

 Last month, Portsmouth became the first town in New Hampshire to ban foam cups and takeout containers. The city council’s unanimous vote not only made me proud of my home state but also led me to reflect on what it means to be a New Hampshire resident. Growing up in this small, beautiful state instilled me with a sense of wonder toward natural landscapes. In the winter, frosted mountain peaks crest against an ice-blue horizon. Summertime means days spent by the smooth expanse of the sea, watching gulls sail across the sky. My New Hampshire childhood also instilled in me a powerful sense of community. The town where my parents live has a population of 8,850. This means that when I buy butter and eggs from the grocery store down the road, I know the name of the cashier ringing up my items. We’ll chat about Winnacunnet’s football game or the Seafood Festival or how our families are doing. The small, close-knit communities of New Hampshire, combined with our inherent natural beauty, leave the state well-placed to organize itself and step up as a leader to protect the environment.

The long-held value of community in New Hampshire means that the elected officials in our towns and cities listen to local voices — not just powerful special interests. For example, every article that chronicled the passage of the ban underlined the importance of local students attending relevant city council meetings and writing op-eds during the process. Councilman Josh Denton, the primary author of the ban, actually cited the high schoolers as the reason for the unanimous vote.

Our small communities also can create a special brand of closeness between constituents and our representatives. Consider Denton’s history. He has lived in Portsmouth for more than a decade and works for the Portsmouth Naval Yard. During his re-election campaign, he bicycled door-to-door to introduce himself. To me — a kid born and raised on the seacoast — a local guy who works at the Naval Yard pushing for a ban on foam cups and takeout containers makes protecting the environment feel both accessible and possible.

The actions in Portsmouth — from both the city council and the public — remind me that my love of the outdoors does not exist in a vacuum. So many New Hampshirites treasure memories of skiing in the White Mountains, fishing in the salt marshes, and swimming at Jenness Beach. The ban protects these places, as it will help clear plastic litter from our beaches and rivers and keep our gulls, seals, and piping plovers from choking on pieces of plastic or starving after they continuously mistake plastic for food. Ultimately, Portsmouth’s ordinance will protect the wild places and wildlife that have, in so many cases, played an instrumental role in shaping the individual identities of residents across New Hampshire.

Now the rest of New Hampshire should follow the lead of Portsmouth. We can and should harness our love of nature and our strong relationships with our neighbors to protect our ocean, mountains and wildlife from plastic. This means talking to your friends, neighbors and co-workers about plastic pollution. It means calling or emailing or sending a letter to your city council member about your support for a ban on foam cups and takeout containers. It means organizing with your circles — your book club, or your class, or your team — to step up, fight against plastic pollution and protect the wild places and wildlife we love.