County considers ban on polystyrene food and beverage containers

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County considers ban on polystyrene food and beverage containers

The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors may decide Tuesday to join Richmond, San Pablo and dozens of other Bay Area jurisdictions in implementing a ban on polystyrene food and beverage containers.

Often referred to as sytrofoam, polystyrene food and beverage containers are made from potentially harmful chemicals, according to county staff, and are “especially troublesome” when they end up as litter, as they tend to break down into smaller and smaller pieces, becoming difficult to clean from the environment and becoming pollutants in the county’s waterways and storm drain system.

In April, county staff began looking into developing an ordinance banning polystyrene containers.

One option under consideration by the Board of Supervisors is banning polystyrene food and beverage containers by any businesses that prepares and sells food and beverages to the public. A second option would ban such containers sold at retail outlets such as grocery stores and also polystyrene ice chests and packaging materials, including in packaging peanuts.

RELATED: Richmond to expand restrictions on polystyrene foam products.

Nearly 120 jurisdictions in California have already passed some form of polystyrene bans, according to the organization Californians Against Waste. Ten of the 19 cities and towns in Contra Costa County have passed bans on some level. Richmond has also banned plastic straws and stirrers over their environmental impact.

Such bans are opposed by the California Restaurant Association, which states polystyrene food and beverage containers keep foods fresh and safe for eating and drinking and that alternatives are costly for businesses with “razor thin” profit margins.

“The CRA continues to support the presence of recycling and composting programs to mitigate environmental impacts,” Alison Piccoli, a spokesperson for the CRA in the Bay Area, wrote in a letter to the county.

The CRA is calling for a “comprehensive litter abatement policy instead of an attempt to ban a single product,” which Piccoli’s letter described as discriminatory.

After San Francisco banned polystyrene in 2008, paper cup litter increased, according to Piccoli’s letter.

“Single product bands simply change the composition of litter instead of truly reducing it,” the letter adds.

Howdy Goudey, a member of the Sustainability Commission, applauds the county’s step toward banning polystyrene products but says it should go further in its foodware restrictions to encourage compostable alternatives.

This story has been updated to correct the number of Contra Costa cities that have imposed a ban of some kind on polystyrene products.

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