San Francisco Chronicle  [Printer-friendly version]
June 28, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The city of Oakland, California has banned
the use of styrofoam packaging for take-out food. Roughly 100 other
U.S. cities have taken similar steps to avoid the creation of
unmanageable and unnecessary plastic wastes.]

By Jim Herron Zamora, Chronicle Staff Writer

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

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

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

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."