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City Considers Taxing Single-Use Plastics

Illustration by Maytal Bach

Berkeley City Council voted on April 24 to refer the proposed Single Use Food ware and Litter Reduction Ordinance to Berkeley’s Zero Waste Commission. The ordinance aims to reduce waste from food ware.

The Zero Waste Commission will solicit feedback from business owners and the public, and make a recommendation to City Council based on their findings, said Heidi Obermeit, the commission’s secretary. They will also consult local restaurant owners and environmental experts. The commission will either suggest improvements for the ordinance or approve it for the council’s vote.

The ordinance would require businesses to charge $0.25 for disposable cups and to-go containers. Businesses would need to make straws, stirrers, and disposable utensils available only upon request, as well as compostable and non-toxic.

Berkeley High School (BHS) junior Da’Janique Demery noted that the ordinance would require her to pay more for food. “But I think that with the cups, I would be more likely to bring my own reusable cups,” she added.

Mihika de Souza, another BHS junior, felt that bringing a reusable cup each day would be hard. “In the mornings I’m always rushed, and I wouldn’t think to grab my reusable cup or a thermos,” she said.

Demery and De Souza both agreed that, because of the waste from single-use disposables, the passage of the ordinance would be beneficial for the community.

The ordinance is modeled after the countywide plastic bag ban imposed in 2013, which greatly reduced the amount of plastic bags used by customers.

The ordinance estimated that if implemented, greenhouse gas emissions from Berkeley would decrease by eighty percent by 2050, and  fulfill the city’s Zero Waste and Climate Action goals.

“The city council has been working for years to reduce waste within Berkeley,” said Lars Skjerping, an aide to Councilmember Maio. “This ordinance would be beneficial for our community and the environment.”

As stated in the ordinance, the city would need to create and maintain a list of approved food ware. The city will also be responsible for administration and enforcement of the requirements outlined by the ordinance.

“It’s vital that the City include local business in their consideration of these proposals,” said Lars Skjerping. So far, there has been positive feedback from the community.

The financial implications would not be grave for businesses. Currently, it costs businesses between $0.25 and $0.85 for single use foodware items per meal. Reducing the amount of single use foodware items could cut costs for some businesses. Some businesses in Alameda County have voluntarily stopped providing disposable food ware, and saw annual savings ranging from one thousand dollars to $22,000.

It is not known when the council will vote on the ordinance.