Berkeley looks to ban plastic take-out containers

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Next time you grab those plastic containers of take-out at your favorite local restaurant, consider this: about 50 percent of plastic is used just once and thrown away.

And some of those convenient take-out containers, cups and utensils are among the 8 million tons of plastic that is dumped into the world’s oceans every year.

Now, the city of Berkeley is taking steps to curb the amount of plastic that winds up in waterways, landfills and on city streets. 

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin introduced an ordinance Tuesday night that would require eateries to charge customers 25 cents for take-out containers and cups. 

“We are seeing an enormous amount of plastic material ending up in our bay and we need to find a way to manage our resources,’’ said Arreguin. “The hope is that it will encourage customers to bring their own re-useable containers when getting take-out.”

Businesses would keep the proceeds.

“The money would go to the business for the cost of implementing this program. They are going to have to purchase a whole host of products that would comply with the ordinance and would not be plastic,’’ Arreguin said. 

As a first step, the council on Tuesday sent the measure to the city’s Zero Waste Commission for further study. The commission will gather input from restaurants and other food retailers as well as environmental experts before returning the measure for council consideration.

Arreguin said some businesses have already started using compostable and re-usable items, which has saved them thousands of dollars each year. 

Berkeley has taken several other steps over the last decade to get to a voter-approved goal of zero waste by 2020. Berkeley was the first city in the nation to ban Styrofoam and also among the first cities to eliminate all plastic bags and packaging from its weekly farmers’ markets.

It’s currently considering banning plastic straws, an item that clogs waterways as Americans toss out an estimated 500 million straws each day. 

To understand how dire plastic pollution is, consider this: an Alameda-based environmental group called The Ocean Cleanup is working to pull a floating garbage patch --- twice the size of Texas—from the Pacific Ocean, halfway between California and Hawaii. 

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch includes tens of thousands of pieces of trash, including, “lots of packaging,” said Boyan Slat, CEO of the company.

Working from the former Alameda Naval Air Station, environmentalists built 2,000-foot long u-shaped, floating barriers with screens that will act as trash funnels in the ocean. 

Boats will soon tow the devices some 2,500 miles out to sea towards Hawaii and drop them in the ocean. Currents are expected to carry the plastic debris to the screens and collect there. 

"Every two months a boat would come – a garbage truck of the ocean – and will put a net around the plastic, close the top of the net and lift it on to the boat," said Slat.

The company believes it can eventually capture 90 percent of the floating plastic this way.

Company officials say the problem is large, but everyone-- even cities--can take small steps to reduce plastic waste and ocean pollution.