Contra Costa Co. ban on polystyrene food, beverage containers goes into effect in 2020

An ordinance prohibiting the use of polystyrene food and beverage containers by vendors in unincorporated Contra Costa County will go into effect May 1, 2020, following a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning.

County officials hope to discourage environmental damage caused by the presence of polystyrene chunks and particles in the watershed by pushing restaurants, food trucks and other vendors to use alternative materials.

Exemptions are in place, however, for polystyrene trays used to package raw meat in grocery stores, as well as reusable foam coolers and ice chests. Businesses that might face financial hardship as a result of the new policy could also apply for a temporary exemption from the director of public works.

The board may also revise the ordinance to encourage the use of compostable materials in the future, although staff recommended against doing so for the time being because compostable food waste collection services aren't uniformly available throughout the county, and compostables that end 
up in landfill will generate greenhouse gases as they decompose.

El Cerrito resident Howdy Goudey argued that improving accessibility to those services should be a priority. He called the ordinance "not forward looking enough," in light of a statewide need to divert organic materials from the waste stream.

"This action is not being reflective of things that are coming down immediately, that need to be dealt with," Goudey said.

"I think the direction is going towards compostables," he added.

Supervisor Candace Andersen made a motion to vote on the ordinance as currently written, however, saying it can be updated in the future as needed. Supervisor Karen Mitchoff seconded the motion, and the supervisors passed it unanimously, asking staff to plan on preparing an update on the legislation's implementation at the end of 2020.

In other developments, the board also voted to support a half-cent sales tax increase proposed by the Contra Costa Transit Authority to support about $3.5 billion in transit projects. The matter is not solely up to the board, however, and voters will get the final say when they go to the polls in March 2020.