The impact of plastic on the oceans is now a global crisis and single-use disposable foodware is a large part of the problem. Today, half the plastic we produce is used once and then discarded. 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year, 8 million of which enter the world’s oceans as waste. 35 billion plastic bottles are discarded each year in the U.S. alone and globally we discard 500 billion plastic bags annually recycling only 5%.
Sunshine breaks all that plastic in the ocean down into smaller particles which are then consumed by all manner of ocean life. As a result, scientists now believe that plastics pollution s not only destroying sea life but also impacting human health, resulting in hormonal changes, cancers, and reproduction problems.
One local response to this global emergency is a new disposable foodware and litter reduction ordinance soon to be considered by the Berkeley City Council. The most comprehensive municipal legislation of its kind in the US, the new measure will be aimed specifically at reducing single-use disposable foodware.
The Disposable-Free Dining Ordinance will get its first hearing at the April 24th Berkeley City Council meeting. At 3pm the same day, Mayor Jesse Arreguin, one of the authors of the legislation, will join business owners, residents, and local, state, and national nonprofits to hold a press conference at the Berkeley Recycling Yard.
“Single-use disposable foodware is a local and global problem, one with enormous financial and environmental costs,” says Council Member Sophie Hahn, the ordinance’s co-author. “As a city striving toward Zero Waste, we do a good job with composting and recycling, but it is not enough. We need to start reducing our waste as well.”
Berkeley’s proposed ordinance builds on a wave of similar city ordinances in Santa Cruz, Alameda, Davis, Seattle, Ft. Myers Beach, and Malibu, but will go further than all prior initiatives. The ordinance will require that: 1) only reusable foodware can be used for dine-in service, 2) all takeout foodware must be approved as recyclable or compostable in the City’s collection programs, 3) food vendors charge customers $0.25 for every disposable beverage cup and $0.25 for every disposable food container provided, and 4) disposable compostable straws, stirrers, cup spill plugs, napkins, and utensils for take-out are provided only upon request by the customer or at a self-serve station.
The ordinance is supported by a coalition of over 1000 local, national, and international organizations participating in the Break Free from Plastic (BFFP) global movement, including the Ecology Center, Clean Water Action, UpStream, The Story of Stuff Project, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Plastic Pollution Coalition, and Surfrider Foundation. BFFP Global Coordinator Von Hernandez, says, “The gravity of the global plastic pollution crisis should compel policy and decision makers to enact measures to reduce plastic waste, especially for disposable applications where viable and non-polluting alternatives exist. In this light, zero waste practitioners worldwide applaud and support this initiative from Berkeley and look forward to its adoption and implementation.”