Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Ready or not, Pacifica’s Styrofoam ban is here

On January 1st, Pacifica’s Polystyrene ordinance went into effect with many of the affected businesses still unaware that it had even been passed.

In response to a growing awareness of the negative effects of plastic in the oceans, many cities across the state are passing similar laws. Pacifica’s ordinance, which was unanimously approved by the City Council on October 26th, was based on Millbrae’s comprehensive ban. It mandates that all Pacifica eateries replace environmentally harmful polystyrene containers and utensils, including straws and cutlery, with a recyclable or compostable equivalent.

This comes as a surprise to Luigi Latorella, the owner of Luigi’s Italian Restaurant, who says he hadn’t been informed of the ban. “No one has told me anything. But I’m all for it,” he added, “so long as it is for everybody, it’s fair. But they have to tell us about it and give us some time to switch over.”

Ann Ritzma, Pacifica’s finance director, said that once Recology takes over the city’s recycling services, the outreach will get into full swing. “We will be putting together a handout with Recology. They have been doing this with other communities and they are very good at it. Also, they do composting, and Coastside doesn’t. That will affect the purchasing choices that businesses make.”

Councilmember MaryAnn Nihart, who was instrumental in getting the ban passed, was surprised that nothing had been mailed out yet. “Recology is not a done deal. My understanding was that there would be some notices and posting before the law went into effect, but there had been a lot of prior outreach. Don Eggleston at the Chamber of Commerce has done a lot of that and has a lot of useful information. I would encourage businesses to contact the Chamber to learn more.”

Pacifican environmentalist Shelly Reider helped coordinate Millbrae’s ban. “Other cities that have enacted similar ordinances have done a fair amount of outreach to help the restaurants to switch over. Otherwise, how would they know to use up their stock? This is a city ordinance and the city should have put something out by now. But, at least the ordinance is in place and that is something for the city to be proud of.”

Lynn Adams, President of the Pacifica Beach Coalition, was also surprised by the lack of follow-through. “I’m disappointed that the city hasn’t done more. As citizens, we need to help to make businesses aware, and appreciate the extra cost involved. I hope we can all find other ways to take Styrofoam out of our lives, whether it’s egg cartons, unneeded packaging or what utensils we use for picnics.”

Ritzma said at this point the city has no plans to prosecute non-compliant restaurants. “For now we want to inform and work with the businesses, and use a carrot rather than a stick. They can come forward to say they need help or more time. There is also an exemption for hardship or lack of a suitable product.”

For Councilmember Nihart, the biggest obstacle is finding time and resources while the city faces other pressing needs. “We’ve got some serious budget cuts, and it’s going to be tough going. That being said, just because you passed an ordinance doesn’t mean your work is done.” Nevertheless, she strongly believes that the ordinance was the right thing to do. “I’m glad that the Council unanimously supported the ban and the community is behind it. Now we need to do our part to help the businesses do theirs.”

Submitted by Ian Butler


Anonymous said...

Yet another way to drive business out of Pacifica and a time when we can least afford it. Way to focus on what's really important in this town. Can you say Little Berkley????

Anonymous said...

People need to take responsibility for the trash they generate. If you want to do business then you need to take the environment and impacts of “takeout” trash into account. Look at what Gorilla barbecue has done….they were charging a few cents extra for environmentally friendly takeout containers.

Other business can do the same, raise their prices a fee cents to cover any extra costs or absorb the costs.

Being environmentally responsible is part of running a business.

mw said...

I think anon#1 is overstating the impact of a rule like this. Maybe it has an effect on business if Pacifica was the first to implement it in the Bay Area. At this point I think the ban on polystyrene containers is more the rule than the exception in these parts.

Steve Sinai said...

On Ian's Wavelength show, Jeff from Gorilla BBQ was arguing against the styrofoam ban. My impression was he was happy to offer customers a choice between styrofoam and biodegradable packaging for certain items, but there were other items, like sauces, where he couldn't find biodegradable packaging that worked.

I was also told that when Luigi said he was ok with the ban "as long as it is for everybody, it's fair," he was talking about it being applied at a regional level, e.g., county or state, and was against this particular ordinance because it put businesses like Luigi's at a competitive disadvantage to restaurants outside of Pacifica.

Rather than having it done on a local level, where struggling little mom & pops are forced to bear the cost of burnishing local politicians' environmental reputations, I thought the approach that Jerry Hill took, which was to introduce a statewide-ban on polystyrene, was the way to do it.

Unknown said...

If you guys are really serious, why don't you bring your own container?