Burlingame joins ban on foam food containers 

The days of the Styrofoam takeout container appear to be numbered in San Mateo County.

Burlingame was the latest city to say no to Styrofoam with the approval this week of a ban on polystyrene packaging for prepared food.

The ordinance adopted Monday by the City Council was the same as one adopted by the county earlier this year, which bans food vendors from selling prepared food in polystyrene-based food containers, the packaging popularly known as Styrofoam.

The county’s ordinance, which goes into effect July 1, only affects the unincorporated areas but is designed to be adopted by incorporated cities interested in joining the program as well.

Burlingame’s Community Development Director Bill Meeker said it made sense to have the county’s environmental health department enforce the ban, since it already licenses food establishments.

Nearby Millbrae and South San Francisco already have similar independent bans in place, but Meeker believes Burlingame will be the first to join the county’s ordinance. The city will start enforcing the ban at the start of 2012.

Burlingame’s move seems to be part of a larger trend that has the potential to go statewide. State Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, in February introduced SB 568, which if signed into law could ban polystyrene food ware across the state by 2013.

But for the moment, the focus remains at the county level, with change coming one city at a time.

“Our biggest concern is that it never degrades … it never goes away,” said Dean Peterson, the county’s environmental health director.

Peterson said Styrofoam breaks down into smaller and smaller bits of styrene, which eventually find their way into the food supply as wildlife mistakes them for food. Polystyrene food containers ranked second only to cigarette butts in a county litter survey conducted last September, he noted.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also listed polystyrene as a possible carcinogen, and the U.S. Food and Drug Agency discourages microwaving food in styrofoam containers.

Both the city and county officials say they have done extensive outreach to food vendors regarding the ban. Meeker said those who attended public meetings regarding the ban were “receptive” and that no one “raised any red flags.”

“It’s not a big jump,” said Meeker, noting that various vendors are already using recyclable food containers. “This is an effort for those who haven’t done this yet.”

The county’s ordinance allows food vendors to apply for an extension and to seek the option to use banned containers, Peterson said.


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