Berkeley goes nuclear on single-use plastic

Thank heavens for Berkeley. The famously liberal Bay Area city’s government may go over the top at times, but is not afraid to take tough and unpopular stands against public health and environmental threats. It adopted the nation’s first tax on sugary drinks, for example. It was an early adopter of curbside recycling and banned polystyrene (what you might think of as Styrofoam) 30 years ago, way before it was hip to do so.

So perhaps it was only natural that Berkeley would be the first California city to take on the challenge of crafting a truly comprehensive plan to reduce single-use plastic trash. After months of hearings and study, the City Council adopted the Single-Use Disposable Foodware and Litter Reduction Ordinance on Tuesday to force a shift from plastic to compostable food containers.

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Berkeley consumers will be required to pay an extra quarter on every takeout cup they use, even after restaurants switch to compostable ones. City officials estimate that about 40 million to-go cups are used every year in Berkeley alone, so the fee will generate a fairly sizable amount of cash. The businesses get to keep the money and can use it to offset the higher cost of supplying compostable takeout containers. Fees are known to change behaviors.

Also, dine-in restaurants in Berkeley will be prohibited from using anything but reusable cups, forks, plates and the like, starting in mid 2020.

In short, this is a big deal, and officials in other cities and the state capital ought to pay close attention. It’s the kind of broad approach we have urged policymakers to develop. So far, the response has been to adopt bans or restrictions on individual items, such as grocery bags or plastic drinking straws. Those kinds of policies get attention but don’t make appreciable dents in disposable plastic produced every year.

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Berkeley, at least, answered the call to think beyond bags and straws. And while we’re not endorsing every piece of this complex ordinance, officials there deserve credit for the courage and patience it took to enact such an ambitious, aggressive waste reduction effort that could serve as the test case for other cities and states.

— Los Angeles Times

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