Food vendors in Half Moon Bay will soon be banned from using plastic foam takeout containers after the City Council unanimously approved an ordinance last night that requires all containers be made of reusable, recyclable, compostable and/or biodegradable materials.
The ordinance will go into effect on Aug. 1. Food vendors can apply for an exemption by citing an "undue hardship" in complying with the policy. Violations of the ordinance will be fined $100 for a first offense, $200 for a repeat offense and $500 for the third violation.
Also known as polystyrene or by the brand name Styrofoam, plastic foam is neither biodegradable nor recyclable. The material is petroleum-based and can leach chemicals into the food or drink inside the container, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
No opposition to the ordinance was brought to the council, with the exception of a letter from the American Chemistry Council.
Leaders of local environmental groups Coastside Land Trust and Save Our Shores made public statements to the council in support of the ban. Both organizations worked with councilmember Marina Fraser to bring the ordinance to the council's attention, while San Mateo County Environmental Health Director Dean Peterson was credited with bringing the idea for a ban to the a year ago.
Jo Chamberlain, Executive Director of the in Half Moon Bay, told the council that her organization supported the ordinance. "We have found a significant amount of polystyrene material and have picked a lot of it up" during the group's cleanups at beaches and conservation easements in Half Moon Bay, she said.
"We have seen animals eating this and dead birds with this material in them," Chamberlain said.
Bans on Styrofoam takeout containers have had a noticeable effect on the amount that ends up littered on the beach, said Laura Kasa of Santa Cruz-based Save Our Shores in a statement to the council. Kasa referred to a ban passed in Santa Cruz County as an example.
"We've seen a 50 percent decrease," she said of the amount of Styrofoam that volunteers pick up at the 200 beach cleanups the organization runs a year. "It used to be 12 pieces per cleanup and it's now cut down to six pieces," Kasa said. Santa Cruz County passed its ban in 2008.
During last month's at , Kasa said that the organization counted 17 pieces of Styrofoam collected by volunteers. "That's much higher than average," she said.
Kasa concluded her remarks by asking councilmembers to include Styrofoam coolers (ice chests) in the ordinance. "You think they'll be reused but they're left in the trash can and they're impossible to clean up," she said, adding that the coolers break into small pieces after disposal. Kasa said that Save Our Shores picked up 200 small pieces of Styrofoam at a recent beach cleanup.
Despite Kasa's plea, the council was hesitant to amend the ordinance to include Styrofoam coolers.
"We need to look at alternatives people can sell to visitors who visit our beaches," said Fraser.
Councilmember John Muller said that banning Styrofoam coolers could have an impact on fishermen at Pillar Point Harbor.
"We have to be sensitive...not to do anything to damage what little business they have from selling fish off their boats," he said.
Peterson said to the council that San Mateo County's Environmental Health Department had a concern about banning polystyrene-based foam as material used for prepackaged food due to hygiene issues. "We prefer polystyrene containers for packging of fish and meat," he said, adding that it was considered to be the best type of packaging material for fish and meat in regards to hygiene.
Though Styrofoam coolers were not included in the ordinance that passed, Kasa was pleased with the outcome.
"Save Our Shores is thrilled with the leadership the Half Moon Bay City Council has taken with passing this ordinance," she said. "By eliminating use of harmful products such as polystyrene food containers, we will surely improve the health of our marine environment."
Several other Peninsula cities, including Burlingame, Millbrae, Pacifica, San Bruno and South San Francisco, have already passed similar bans. In 2008, San Mateo County passed a policy that applies to all county departments, agencies and contractors. Earlier this year, the county Board of Supervisors passed a ban targeting its unincorporated areas which will go into effect on July. 1.
For a copy of the ordinance, view the PDF document attached in the media box to the right.