Sonoma County to consider ban on polystyrene containers to reduce waste
Sonoma County supervisors will take a look on Tuesday at a long-delayed proposal to ban Styrofoam food containers and other products composed of polystyrene foam, a non-recyclable, non-biodegradable material frequently used in takeout packaging.
The model ordinance, likely to return for a decision in late August, is part of a larger effort to both reduce the amount of trash that goes into the county landfill or litters the region’s landscape and promote recyclable, reusable or compostable alternatives.
“It is way past time,” said Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents the county on Zero Waste Sonoma, the regional board that oversees solid waste management in the county.
Six of its cities — Sebastopol, Petaluma, Healdsburg, Cloverdale, Sonoma and Windsor — already have approved a model ordinance prohibiting use and sale of expanded polystyrene foam cups, bowls, clamshell containers and the like, as well as ice chests, water toys, packing peanuts and other packing materials made of the substance.
Any final ordinance approved by the Board of Supervisors would apply in the unincorporated area outside city limits. Similar ordinances also have been adopted in more than 120 other California cities.
Exemptions would exist in the county ordinance for cases of undue hardship; food prepared and package outside the county; meat and fish packaging; and products containing polystyrene foam encased in durable material to prevent the foam from breaking into pieces and being blown across the environment.
The draft ordinance brought forward by Zero Waste Sonoma staff also would prohibit the use of paperboard or cardboard food service containers manufactured with PFAS — Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances. The chemicals are used in grease, oil, and water and heat-resistant linings, among many other products.
They are very persistent in the environment, can leach into food and be taken up into food plants through the soil. They are believed to contribute to serious adverse health effects, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The county ordinance would additionally require that food vendors who distribute disposable food service wares use compostable or recyclable products by Jan. 1 and provide straws, lids, cutlery and to-go condiment packets — none of which are accepted for recycling — if specifically requested by a customer.
Food providers would be encouraged to charge a 25-cent “takeout fee” for disposable items and offer a 25-cent credit to consumers who bring in reusable to-go containers under the ordinance.
Tuesday’s discussion follows on a resolution passed by the county waste agency in 2018 aspiring to a goal of “zero waste” by 2030. The Board of Supervisors will be asked to adopt the same resolution, which calls on residents to reduce their waste by 10% per person, per day, in part by cutting back on wasteful consumption, increasing reuse and repair of items, recycling, composting and using products created through green manufacturing.
Those efforts also would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, about 50% of which results from the extraction of resources, production, shipping and packaging of all goods, according to the draft ordinance.
Leslie Lukacs, executive director of Zero Waste Sonoma, said the county’s consideration of the polystyrene ban was postponed, like so many things, because of recent wildfire disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic, which also delayed enforcement of new ordinances in some communities.
Only Sebastopol, the first city to take action on the model ordinance, has put the ban into effect. The Sebastopol City Council took its first vote on the issue in March 2019. Petaluma and Healdsburg followed later that year, with Windsor acting in early 2020 and Sonoma adopting an ordinance in April.
Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park and Cotati all are expected to consider similar moves in the coming months, with other cities making modifications to expand the ban beyond polystyrene foam to PFAS, as well as adopting restrictions on distributions of other single-use items, according to Zero Waste Sonoma.
The county’s discussion of waste reduction will be followed by a presentation on organic waste disposal and state mandates for reduced emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas produced in part through landfilled organic materials like yard waste and food scraps.
The board is set to explore mandatory collection of organic wastes from residents and commercial entities in the unincorporated area, a requirement already imposed by cities.
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or email@example.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.