Like a patrolman on the beat, Lee Barrett strides into a Chinese restaurant, flashes his ID card and has a look around. “StyroCop” is on the trail of illicit carryout containers.
The city has gotten a complaint that the restaurant is putting its egg rolls and fried rice in boxes that violate Portland’s year-old ban on polystyrene foam fast-food containers.
Barrett, 44, a longtime environmental activist, is the ban’s enforcer. A local television reporter dubbed him StyroCop--a takeoff on the movie “RoboCop"--his first day on the job, and he’s become something of a celebrity.
The Portland law does not restrict containers made of paper or plastic not blown into foam. Those have been the alternatives used by fast-food restaurants, the only industry affected by the Portland law.
Businesses cited by Barrett face fines of $250 for a first offense and $500 for each subsequent offense.
Neither a police officer nor a health inspector, Barrett only responds to complaints received by the city. He’s written only a handful of tickets but says the law is a start and has raised public awareness.
Back at the Chinese restaurant, Barrett spots a stack of carryout containers in the kitchen and holds one up.
“That’s a hundred percent polystyrene,” he said. “Zero percent air.” It’s legal. Barrett asks to see a storeroom downstairs, where he finds more of the same.