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County Supervisors Approve Restricting Distribution of Expanded Polystyrene Food and Beverage Containers

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF. – Today, County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve an ordinance restricting distribution of expanded polystyrene (EPS) food and beverage containers for prepared eat-in or take-out food and beverages in unincorporated Santa Clara County. It applies to all food vendors including food catering trucks and all event snack bars and it will become operative on February 1, 2013.
“Prohibiting the use of expanded polystyrene will definitely better our environment in the long run and we are very delighted that the County is taking action to address this important issue,” said President George Shirakawa, County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors. “However, we deeply understand the potential impacts on our small businesses. From now till the effective date, we will make sure that we are conducting outreach and providing the assistance and support so that our unincorporated businesses are adequately prepared before this goes into effect. ”
The ordinance requires businesses to choose alternative containers that are collected for recycling by their franchised hauler and to establish procedures regarding compliance. However, the following are excluded from the ordinance:
  •  Unincorporated Santa Clara County board and care facilities, sorority/fraternity houses, skilled nursing facilities and other locations where meal service is included as part of the occupancy agreement;
  •  EPS trays used to hold fresh meat, poultry, fish and produce;
  •  EPS used for packaging, such as block EPS and packaging "peanuts";
  • Containers holding foods prepared or packaged outside of unincorporated Santa Clara County; and
  • Coolers and ice chests intended for reuse.
“Expanded polystyrene impacts the environment for generations and harms wildlife.  There are now plenty of materials readily available that work just as well without the negative side effects,” said Supervisor Ken Yeager, who, along with Supervisor Liz Kniss, proposed the ordinance last year.  “Just as we did with single-use bags earlier this year, I am proud of the County’s leadership role on environmental issues.  I hope that other jurisdictions will pass restrictions of their own on the use of expanded polystyrene.”
According to the California Department of Transportation, EPS comprises approximately 15% of storm drain litter. It is the second most common type of beach litter. EPS does not readily decompose. It does, however, break down into small pieces which are often ingested by aquatic animals that mistake the EPS pieces for food. When EPS is delivered to a landfill, it remains intact, taking up valuable, finite amounts of landfill space. The cost to taxpayers for litter clean-up and the adverse impacts to the environment, especially the marine environment, are significant.
“It’s one of the worst examples of polystyrene foam that swirls in ocean polluting our environment while putting the marine wildlife in danger,” said Supervisor Liz Kniss, County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors. “Supporting this, we are serving as a model for cities within the county to follow.”
The passage of the ordinance marks the second of its kind in Santa Clara County. The City of Palo Alto implemented an EPS ban in 2010. Both the City of Sunnyvale and the City of Mountain View are discussing the development of ordinances banning EPS take-out food containers.
The proposed ordinance becomes operative February 1, 2013. In the intervening period, Integrated Waste Management (IWM) staff will conduct outreach to further educate and inform affected vendors. During the first year, and in ensuing years, compliance enforcement will be primarily complaint-driven. On-going non-compliance will result in a violation notice; continued failure to comply may result in penalties ranging from $100 to $500.    
Media Contact: Gwendolyn Mitchell/Shirley Zackor,Office of Public Affairs, (408) 299-5119
Posted: May 22, 2012