Styrofoam food packaging banned in Oakland
Jim Herron Zamora, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
(06-28) 12:01 PDT OAKLAND -- The Oakland City Council approved a ban on Styrofoam packaging for take-out food late Tuesday during a marathon council meeting that ended early today.
Oakland joins about 100 cities that have adopted similar measures, including Portland, Ore., and Berkeley, which banned Styrofoam nearly 20 years ago. San Francisco is expected to ban Styrofoam food packaging later this summer.
The measure, which takes effect in January, will ban Styrofoam or polystyrene food packaging and require restaurants and cafes to switch to disposable food containers that will biodegrade if added to food compost.
In 2004, the city began an ambitious food recycling plan that encourages residents to stuff used food containers, such as pizza boxes, into the green litter container that already includes yard waste.
The council voted 7-1 with Councilwoman Desley Brooks the sole opponent. Tuesday's action was the final vote after the ban was first approved two weeks ago. Brooks, along with some restaurant owners, has said that the ban would place an undue burden on small businesses.
But supporters, including the measure's author, Councilwoman Jean Quan, said there were plenty of cost-effective options out there for businesses.
The city plans to enforce the measure based on citizen complaints. After a first warning, food vendors could face fines ranging from $100 to $500 for repeat offenses.
Supporters note that polystyrene takes thousands of years to decompose and is already a huge problem in waterways. The California Integrated Waste Management Board reported that polystyrene is responsible for 15 percent of the litter collected in storm drains.
The California Restaurant Association opposes such bans, saying that Styrofoam is necessary to keep food warm. The group also said that Oakland has a history of forcing small businesses to make changes in order to solve the city's litter problem.
In January, the council voted to impose a litter tax on fast-food restaurants to help pay for litter cleanup crews. Under that measure, fast-food restaurants and convenience stores are being assessed between $230 and $3,815 annually, depending on their size, in order to raise $237,000 each year to pay for litter cleanup around the city.
But many local businesses in Oakland supported the measure, noting that they have already voluntarily stopped using Styrofoam, or never used it.
"We've never used (Styrofoam) and we never would," said Gabriel Frazee, manager of the Nomad Cafe on Shattuck Avenue. "All of our food containers are compostable except for plastic drink lids.
In San Francisco, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association also supports a proposed ban.
Frazee, whose business has won several awards for its environment-friendly practices such as using coffee grounds for compost, said that even if paper containers are a little more expensive, it's built into the cafe's business plan.
"There is a slight price difference, but not to the extent that it's going to ruin the business," Frazee said. "Our owner believes in an environmentally friendly business, and our customers support us."