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New measure could ban plastic straws, foodware in San Francisco

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Supporters of a plastic straw and food container ban rallied on the steps of City Hall Monday. (Ian Williams/S.F. Examiner)

Plastic straws and other disposable items may soon no longer be on the menu in San Francisco restaurants if a measure heard by a Board of Supervisors committee Monday is approved.

The measure would ban both single-use straws and other chemically treated foodware in the city. If it passes, plastic straws, stirrers, cup plugs and foodware treated with fluorinated chemicals, among other foodware accessories, will not be available in The City starting July 1, 2019.

Monday’s hearing came after an impassioned rally occupying the steps of City Hall calling for an end to the plastic that has contributed to the pollution impacting natural habitats, particularly along the California coastline.

Katy Tang, author of the bill, spoke to the crowd with some of her co-sponsors, including District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin and District 11 Supervisor Safai.

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“As a supervisor representing a district that borders Ocean Beach, this is an issue we see everyday,” Tang said. “We know that this issue has taken off by storm around the world and we want you to know that this works with all different kinds of communities.”

San Francisco would not be the first to adopt such an ordinance. Alameda, Davis and Berkeley have also moved away from single use plastics.

The City, however, would be the first in the country to ban the use of fluorinated chemicals in foodware. The chemicals are found in takeout containers favored by restaurants for their robust, long-lasting attributes, the same attributes that make them a havoc on the environment and potentially, pregnant women.

According to Tracy Woodruff, director of the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment at UCSF, higher exposures to these chemicals, such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), during pregnancy can lead to a decrease in fetal growth and an increased risk of neurodevelopmental problems.

“100 percent of pregnant women in San Francisco and across the United States have measurable levels in their bodies,” Woodruff said. ‘They cross the placenta and they get into the fetus.”

The Plastic and Litter Reduction Ordinance would also require city-permitted events with 100 or more attendees to provide reusable cups for 10 percent of those present.

More than a dozen people lined up to comment at the hearing, with most supporting the proposed ordinance.

However, some businesses and event planners raised concerns including how questions over how prepackaged food that includes single-use plastics, such as juice boxes and the attached straw, will be treated should the measure pass.

Supervisor Tang duplicated the ordinance and held one version back in committee to address the question.

Some businesses have found it profitable to transition away from single use plastics. Nicole Kozlowski, a bartender at Pagan Idol, says the bar saved $900 on their monthly garbage and recycling bill once they stopped using plastic straws and other similar foodware.

The Board of Supervisors is set to vote on the ordinance on July 24th.

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