City Takes One Giant Green Step – NO STYROFOAM!

By Bill Silverfarb | Daily Journal

Belmont is moving in a greener direction as its council gave tentative approval to a ban on single-use plastic bags and polystyrene products. 

The council considered two draft ordinances in a study session last night and will now move the items on to a full public hearing at a later date.

The Green Advisory Committee is behind the push for the bans in an effort to reduce litter in the city and to be more environmentally friendly.

The useful life of a plastic bag is 15 minutes but they last 15 years in the environment, Green Advisory Committee member Michael Swire told the council last night.

Residents in Belmont currently use 13 million plastic bags each year, Swire said.

Banning the single-use bags will protect marine life and reduce the city’s cost of cleaning up the mess they leave in creeks and storm drains, he said.

Plastic bags and polystyrene, or Styrofoam, are the two biggest polluting items in storm drains and on beaches, he said. Swire refers to plastic bags as the “tumbleweed” of Belmont.

The bans are favored by local environmental groups such as Save the Bay and Sierra Club, although the Belmont Chamber of Commerce has yet to take a position on the proposed ordinances.

The draft ordinance the council heard last night proposes to ban single-use plastic bags and require retailers to charge 15 cents each for a paper bag which must include 40 percent post-consumer recycled content.

While Councilman Warren Lieberman favors a ban, he does not favor the requirement that retailers charge 15 cents for a paper bag.

Making it a mandatory fee is “overreaching,” Lieberman said. George Burgess, with the Belmont Chamber of Commerce, agreed. “

I don’t like people telling me how to run my business. A 15-cent charge for a paper bag is a bad idea,” Burgess said. He, however, was the only member of the public to speak out in any way against the proposed bans.

Banning plastic bags and polystyrene will be considered in two separate ordinances.

San Francisco and Palo Alto already have bans on plastic bags and San Carlos and Daly City are also currently considering such a ban.

In San Mateo County, the cities of Burlingame, San Bruno, Pacifica, South San Francisco and Millbrae have already adopted ordinances banning polystyrene, or Styrofoam, as it is more commonly called. Belmont’s polystyrene ban, if the council adopts it, will be similar to San Mateo County’s ordinance for unincorporated communities.

The county’s ordinance prohibits all food vendors, including restaurants, delis, cafes, markets, fast-food establishments, vendors at fairs and food trucks from dispensing prepared food in polystyrene containers.

Swire called polystyrene “evil” at last night’s meeting. Councilwoman Christine Wozniak was ready to approve the bans last night.

“This should have been done yesterday or last year,” Wozniak said. A final vote on the bans could take a while, however, as Belmont currently does not have a permanent city attorney and lawsuits related to implementing plastic bag bans have yet to be decided. Swire hopes the bans could be implemented sooner, however.

“Every month you wait is another million bags used in Belmont,” he said.

The ordinances propose to provide at least six months after passage for sufficient outreach to businesses and consumers and to levy fines, up to $500, in cases in which all other efforts to obtain compliance are not successful.