Calif. county poised to ban some PS uses

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Marin County will almost certainly become the fourth-largest region in California to ban the use of polystyrene takeout containers, adding to a string of bans affecting roughly 2 million people in the northern California communities and regions that surround San Francisco.

The Marin County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the ban Oct. 13. The bill must have a second hearing and a second vote Oct. 27 before it becomes law.

Three towns in Marin County — Mill Valley, Fairfax and Sausalito — have already enacted PS container bans.

Marin County, the county just north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge, has a population just under 250,000 — slightly less than Santa Cruz County, which earlier this year enacted a similar ban.

San Francisco, with a population of 800,000, and Oakland, with 400,000 residents, also have PS bans, along with several other cities in the Bay Area such as Berkeley, Emeryville, Millbrae, South San Francisco, San Bruno, Palo Alto and Pittsburg.

Altogether, 24 California towns and two counties have banned PS takeout packaging. In addition, four California cities and one California county prohibit the use of PS takeout packaging at municipal facilities.

The Marin County ban would go into effect Jan. 1, but not be enforced until July 1, 2010. It would prohibit restaurants, food vendors, grocery stores and delis that sell prepared or takeout food from using PS disposable packaging.

The ban would apply to all containers, bowls, plates, trays, cartons, cups, knives, spoons, straws, lids, bags, wrappings and other items designed for one-time use and used to store prepared or takeout foods, including food left over from a partially consumed meal.

In addition, the bill mandates that stores and restaurants use takeout packaging for either durable food-service items designed for multiple uses, or biodegradable disposable food packaging. The bill defines those materials as coated paper and cardboard, bioplastics packaging that meet ASTM standards for biodegradability, or uncoated paper and cardboard.

The bill provides an exemption for meats, fish and poultry sold in butcher cases and not packaged in the county, and for PS coolers and ice chests.

The reasoning of the supervisors, as outlined in the findings that accompanied the bill, underscores the challenges the industry faces in combating PS bans, and how legislators view PS takeout packaging.

In addition to health concerns about PS and its inability to decompose in the environment, the bill cites the use of non-renewable resources to manufacture the product, and litter problems.

“Discarded packaging from single servings of food and beverages constitutes a significant and growing portion of the waste stream, and polystyrene foam is notorious as a pollutant that breaks down into smaller, non-biodegradable pieces that pose significant threats to marine and other wildlife from ingestion and entanglement,” the bill states.

In addition, it argues that “plastics in general are difficult to recycle due to the lack of an aftermarket demand for the materials.”

What's more, the measure states “there is no meaningful reuse” of recycled PS foam products. “An additional system, outside of ordinary curbside pickup, must be set up to collect polystyrene products — which would be both expensive and impractical.”

Both the American Chemistry Council and the California Grocers Association have argued that the requirement for biodegradable packaging is premature because the county does not have a commercial compost facility.

But Marin County Supervisor Charles McGlashan, who co-sponsored the measure, said he has received assurances from Michael Frost, program manager of the Marin Hazardous and Solid Waste Joint Powers Association, that the Redwood Landfill and Recycling Center in Novato, Calif., will began to phase in a composting program next year.

Redwood recycles or reuses almost 50 percent of the material brought to its site and does one-third of all the recycling that takes place in Marin County.

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