Styrofoam may be to-go in the county

Food service containers made of Styrofoam or other nonrecyclable plastics may be outlawed on San Mateo County property in what may be a first step to nixing the problematic polystyrene in all unincorporated areas.

The proposed ban would include jails, the San Mateo Medical Center and its clinics, government buildings and the San Mateo County Event Center, said Supervisor Adrienne Tissier, who is proposing the legislation.

The ordinance will go before the county’s Environmental Quality Committee on Feb. 25 and will be voted on by supervisors in March. If passed, the ban would go into effect July 1.

After weighing how the ban will affect the county’s 5,000 employees, departments and budgets, supervisors will discuss extending the ban to unincorporated areas — possibly in 2009.

“We want to get our own house in order first,” Tissiersaid, who added that Styrofoam increases litter and cleanup costs for the county.

Millbrae became the first city in the county to ban the material after officials passed an ordinance last year. San Francisco required food vendors who sell prepared food to use compostable or recyclable to-go containers in June.

Millbrae Chamber of Commerce CEO John Ford said businesses are adjusting well for the most part. He said he has heard little negative feedback.

Roina Morales, who manages the VRS Café inside the San Mateo County courthouse, said she would welcome the ban. The cafe uses Styrofoam only to serve its soup, she said.

“It wouldn’t be difficult to implement and it’s better for the environment,” she said. Morales said the price increase would be minimal — about $20 extra per case of 1,000 containers, she estimated.

The new ordinance would require county departments and those doing business with the county to use biodegradable or compostable materials for food service-ware products. The ordinance would allow the county to terminate its contracts with any supplier who refused or was unable to comply. In special circumstances, supervisors could grant vendors a waiver on a case-by-case basis.

Inmates in San Mateo County are no longer given Styrofoam with their meals due to their propensity for flushing inappropriate items down the toilets and clogging the system, San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Marc Alcantara said. While staff members still use Styrofoam cups, Alcantara said it wouldn’t be difficult to change over.

tbarak@examiner.com

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