Plastic foam ban likely to pass

Bill would outlaw restaurant use of containers that harm wildlife, are hard to recycle

While The City is usually at the head of the pack when it comes to being environmentally friendly, San Francisco trails behind Berkeley, Oakland and other cities nationwide with its current proposal to ban the Styrofoam-type take-out containers used by some restaurants.

Scheduled to go before the Board of Supervisors for a vote next week, the environmentally friendly measure is likely to pass since nine of 11 supervisors signed as supportive co-sponsors. On Monday, the board’s City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee gave its approval to the measure.

Authored by Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, who introduced the proposed law in June, the Food Service Waste Reduction Act would prohibit San Francisco restaurants, city departments and city contractors from using polystyrene foam, commonly known as Styrofoam, for food service — and require the use of biodegradable, compostable or recyclable take-out containers.

“It might seem like an ‘only in San Francisco’ first, but actually legislation [banning Styrofoam-like containers] has existed in some form or fashion in 100 municipalities across America for some time,” Peskin said.

Polystyrene foam is not easily recycled, clutters landfills and “is a notorious pollutant that breaks down into smaller, nonbiodegradable pieces that are ingested by marine life and other wildlife thus harming or killing them,” according to the legislation. Berkeley adopted a ban on Styrofoam-like products in 1990; Oakland passed its ban this summer.

Although the ban would take effect Jan. 1, 2007, a new amendment to the legislation allows restaurants that have a surplus of the controversial containers to keep using them until June 2007.

Although San Francisco’s Golden Gate Restaurant Association and the Chamber of Commerce have given the ban a green thumbs up, restaurant owners in Chinatown have expressed some concern about the added costs the legislation will bring to their business, said Pius Lee, chairman of the Chinatown Economic Development Committee.

A list of approved alternative materials for take-out containers — including waxed or heavy paper products — will be compiled by The City and provided to restaurants. An alternative that is 15 percent higher in cost will be considered an “affordable” replacement, according to the legislation.

“Who is going to pay the higher cost?” Lee said. “They should have a way to subsidize the small businesses. They have no objections to using other materials, but they’re concerned about the costs.”

Peskin said he’d like the Board of Supervisors to look into the possibility of a plastic foam ban citywide — not just in restaurants, but also throwaway foam containers sold in stores — within the next few years.

Biodegradable or compostable products eventually will decompose into the organic elements found in nature if they are separated from the nonorganic wastes that go into landfills. San Francisco Environment Commission member Ruth Gravanis told the Board of Supervisors committee on Monday that public bins for compost materials would be in order if the legislation passes.

“If we look at food courtslike Rincon or One Market Plaza, where there’s a whole lot of places where you can buy food, if there aren’t any containers for the compostable food ware or utensils, people will just put it in the garbage and it will become part of the landfill anyway,” Gravanis said.

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