Bans on polystyrene containers and single-use bags continue to spread

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WASHINGTON (Feb. 22, 4:15 p.m. ET) — Unless there is an unexpected reversal in a second vote, Dana Point, Calif., is set to become the 50th community in California to enact a ban on polystyrene takeout foodservice containers.

A second vote on the ban — which would not be enforced until seven months after council approves the ban at a second reading — is scheduled for March 6.

At the same meeting, Dana Point city council approved a ban on plastic bags, which also requires a second vote.

With Laguna Beach, Calif., also adopting a plastic bag ban earlier this month, that means 42 communities in California now have bans on single-use plastic carryout bags. Altogether, 54 cities and 12 counties in the U.S. have adopted plastic bag bans, three communities have taxes on plastic bags, and more than a dozen cities—including Austin, Texas; Sacramento and San Diego, Calif. — are actively pursuing plastic bag bans.

Forty-six cities and four counties in California have bans on PS takeout packaging. More than 80 percent of those communities are in the area between the Monterey Peninsula and the San Francisco-Oakland area, and most of them are coastal communities.

Further up the coast, there are PS bans in Seattle; Portland, Ore.; and Issaquah, Wash.

The Dana Point PS ban applies to all retail food vendors including grocery stores, delicatessens, food trucks and sidewalk vendors, and to all vendors at city facilities and city-sponsored, city-managed or city-permitted events. The ban on disposable PS foodservice ware includes containers, trays, cups, hinged or lidded containers, as well as other items designed for one-time use.

But it does not apply to single-use straws or utensils, to foods packaged in PS outside the city, or to PS packaging used for uncooked meat, fish, poultry or eggs.

The Laguna Beach plastic bag ban goes into effect next Jan. 1 and applies to all retail establishments. It requires retailers to charge at least 10 cent for paper bags, which will be required to have 40 percent post-consumer recycled content. There is no exemption in the law for restaurants.

The Millbrae plastic bag ban is scheduled to go into effect Sept. 1 for all retail establishments. Like the Laguna Beach ban, it also requires retailers to charge at least 10 cent for paper bags, which will be required to have 40 percent post-consumer recycled content.

However, restaurants, non-profit stores and dry cleaners are exempt from the Millbrae plastic bag ban. In addition, Millbrae merchants can hand out thicker reusable plastic bags, but they must have at least 40 percent post-consumer recycled materials, and state that fact on the bag.

According to the Sacramento-based Californians Against Waste, 16 percent of the people in California are now living in a jurisdiction where an ordinance has been passed banning plastic bags.

Earlier this month the city of San Francisco extended its now five-year-ban on plastic bags that to date has only applied to supermarkets and pharmacy chains to all retailers and food establishments in the city, effective Oct. 1.

The amended ordinance, approved Feb. 14, requires retailers to charge 10 cents for all paper and compostable bags handed out, also effective Oct. 1. However, restaurants will not be required to charge for paper bags given to customers for taking home food left over from sit-down dining.

The Save Plastic Bag Coalition has said it will file a lawsuit by mid-March against the extension of the San Francisco plastic bag ban to include food establishments.

The coalition also currently has a lawsuit against the San Luis Obispo Integrated Waste Management Authority, charging that they failed to conduct an environmental impact report as required by the California Environmental Quality Act prior to enacting the plastic bag ban for the county.

The Save the Plastic Bag Coalition also has appealed to the California Supreme Court the decision by the Marin County Superior Court that Marin County was not required to follow directives under CEQA requiring an EIR before the county enacted its plastic bag ban.

Earlier this month, in order to settle a lawsuit filed by the coalition, Santa Cruz County repealed the portion of its plastic bag ban that applied to restaurants and food vendors, effectively making them exempt from the ban.

Attorney Stephen Joseph, counsel for the coalition, has argued the California Retail Code pre-empts any local regulation or ban on plastic bags at restaurants and other food facilities.

According to Health and Safety Code 113705 of the state of California, “the public health interest requires that there be uniform statewide health and sanitation standards for retail food facilities to assure the people of this state that the food will be pure, safe, and unadulterated.”