Berkeley ordinance would curb disposable food packaging

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- Plastic forks, takeout containers and paper coffee cups are all in the crosshairs of a new law that's being proposed in the city of Berkeley, to cut down on food that's served with a side of garbage.

The problem starts out innocently enough -- a delicious cappuccino served in a paper cup.

"Sometimes I see them on the street, you know, so you never really know where things end up once they leave the restaurant," said Guerilla Cafe owner Andrea Ali.

It's a global issue, with garbage polluting the ocean and injuring animals, but in Berkeley, it's also a local issue, said Samantha Sommer of Clean Water Action.

"Sixty-seven percent of all the street litter is from single-use disposable food and beverage packaging," she said.

At an event held in front of a mountain of plastic waste at the city's recycling center, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin said, "We picked this location to illustrate the problem."

Many so-called recyclable plastic eating utensils aren't easy or profitable to recycle -- and end up jamming machinery or costing the city money to get rid of, he said. Standing with a blue recycling bin full of food waste, one environmental advocate said, "We want to dump disposables altogether" -- and dumped the bin on the ground.

Under the proposed ordinance now headed to committee, food and drink served to customers dining inside a restaurant will have to come on reusable flatware with reusable utensils. Food that's taken to go will have come with city-approved containers and utensils -- ones the city can actually compost or recycle. And restaurants will be required to charge customers 25 cents per item.

"Trying to push people to also bring their own things, like metal or their own glass or Tupperware containers," Ali said.

Guerilla Cafe already has some customers who do that, she said, and has always used metal utensils and ceramic plates for dine-in service. But at least one thing would have to change:

"We'd have to definitely switch out our straws, because we use plastic straws," she said.

Guerilla Cafe would join the likes of Tacolicious, which recently removed plastic straws from its restaurants, and offers paper straws only to customers who ask for one.

Last year, Berkeley contemplated a city-wide ban on plastic straws, after video of a wounded turtle with a straw stuck in its nose went viral.

"We see straws as an important education opportunity, but really they're just the tip of the wasteberg," said Ecology Center executive director Martin Borque.

He admits the proposal is a bold effort, but recalls that Berkeley voted to ban styrofoam in 1986 -- 30 years before San Francisco.

"Everybody was saying the world is gonna end. And it didn't," he said.
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