Proposed Legislation Aims to Curb Use of Disposable Foodware

Martin Bourque, Executive Director 510-812-5514
Karina Ioffee, Director of Communications, Office of Mayor Jesse Arreguin, 510-981-7102



The Berkeley City Council will soon consider a plan to reduce disposable plates, cups, to-go containers, straws and cutlery at all food-related businesses, the most ambitious and comprehensive piece of municipal legislation ever taken up in the United States with an aim of keeping plastics and other waste out of the landfill.

Food and beverage packaging makes up the majority of street litter in the Bay Area, and much of it ends up in our waterways, clogging up storm drains and rivers. Globally, 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in oceans each year.

To help mark International Earth Day, Mayor Jesse Arreguin and Councilmember Sophie Hahn have authored the Disposable-Free Dining Ordinance, which will get its first hearing at the April 24 Berkeley City Council meeting. The legislation will be unveiled at a press conference at 3pm the same day at the Berkeley Recycling Yard, located at 1231 Second St.

“While plastic may be quick and convenient, it does not biodegrade, wreaks havoc on the environment and poses enormous financial and environmental costs,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, one of the authors of the legislation. “This is a necessary step as we work to get to zero waste and reduce our greenhouse emissions, outlined in the city’s Climate Action Plan.”

Under the new ordinance, only reusable foodware would be given to patrons of all Berkeley restaurants while all takeout foodware would have to be preapproved recyclable or compostable in the city’s collection programs. In addition, food vendors would be asked to charge customers $0.25 for every disposable beverage cup and $0.25 for every disposable food container provided. Disposable compostable straws, stirrers, napkins, and utensils for take-out would only be provided only upon request or at a self-serve station. The intent is to discourage single-use disposable foodware and encourage customers to bring their own reusable containers when getting take out.

The proposed policy is modeled on plastic bag legislation introduced in California in 2015 that asks consumers to bring their own bag or charges a small fee for paper bags. Since that law went into effect, more than 130 cities have implemented similar laws. A recently released study by UK’s Center for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Sciences showed a 30 percent reduction in plastics, evidence that charging for what was once free has significant influence on consumer behavior.

“Single-use disposable food ware is a local and global problem,” said Council Member Sophie Hahn, who worked closely with Berkeley’s Ecology Center and other community experts to author the legislation with Mayor Arreguin. “Berkeley does a good job with composting and recycling, but it is not enough. We need to start reducing our waste as well.”

Although we may not think about it when throw out our disposable coffee cup minutes after buying it, there is a high cost to consumers’ ease and convenience. Last year alone, the Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue Business Improvement District’s street ambassadors picked up over 22 tons of litter. Nationwide, paper cups alone generate 2.2 billion pounds of waste per year, consuming over 11 million trees and emitting 4 billion pounds of carbon dioxide.

“Much of the low-grade plastic that now gets shipped to Asia may end up dumped or burned, despoiling the environment and poisoning workers,” said Martin Bourque, executive director of the Ecology Center, based in Berkeley. “We cannot recycle or compost our way out of the disposable foodware problem. We have to focus on reduction.”

The proposed policy builds on a wave of similar city ordinances, including in Santa Cruz, Alameda, Davis, Seattle, Ft. Myers, and Malibu, that have been passed in response to troubling global levels of plastic pollution. Internationally, Ireland, Taiwan and the European Union are all considering legislation to either ban or tax disposable foodware.

Click here for more information about the proposed ordinance, including background materials and relevant images

Jesse Arreguin