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Los Altos OKs Styrofoam ban

A ban on expanded or extruded polystyrene (EPS) products – commonly known as Styrofoam – is coming to Los Altos on Independence Day.

The Los Altos City Council last week voted 4-1 to approve an expansive ordinance that will prohibit the use and sale of EPS products for the vast majority of local and national food establishments and retailers in the city beginning July 4. The ordinance also prohibits the use of EPS products at events but includes some exemptions for products like egg cartons and raw meats sold from a butcher case, as well as documented hardships for certain businesses.

Councilwoman Val Carpenter cast the lone dissenting vote after she unsuccessfully sought a reduction of the $3,000 appropriation for mailings to local businesses advising them of the upcoming ban.

A city staff report noted that the EPS ordinance affects 36 out of more than 111 food service businesses in Los Altos – including four that use the product solely for pre-packed meats, vegetables or pastries. The report added that just a handful of local municipalities – including Los Altos Hills and Palo Alto – currently have EPS foodware bans in place.

“It seems to me – from the report and all – that we have a lot of receptivity. We don’t have any pushback from all of our wonderful people who serve our residents,” said Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins, who along with three of her council colleagues voted for a July 4 start date to give businesses more time to adjust to the change.

The council’s decision comes after some of its members in December sought a further-reaching measure than the one before them. The original proposal – part of a regional California Environmental Quality Act process led by San Jose – called for phasing out the use of EPS food containers by Los Altos restaurants and other food establishments, but not sales by retailers that stock foam ice coolers and disposable foodware products. The original proposal also called for a ban affecting national food vendors on Earth Day, April 22. It included a second deadline for local vendors exactly one year later.

A chorus of support

A number of Los Altos residents spoke in favor of the ban – one urging the council to implement it on April 22 instead of July 4.

GreenTown Los Altos member Michael McTighe pressed the council to adopt Earth Day as the start of the EPS ban, adding that it was “worthy to note” that less than 40 businesses would be impacted.

“I think we’re not looking at a large number of people, if you consider it,” said McTighe, noting that the April time frame for implementation coincides with the start of the downtown Los Altos Farmers’ Market.

Los Altos Village Association Executive Director Nancy Dunaway, whose organization coordinates the seasonal Farmers’ Market on State Street, told councilmembers that it wouldn’t see a negative impact because of the ban – regardless of its implementation date.

“I believe actually last year most of the food vendors (at the market) were using compostable products,” she said.

Environmental Commissioner Gary Hedden, speaking on behalf of himself, not the commission, said the commission visited all food service providers in the city and concluded that most “are already onboard with this measure.”

He added that two out of three Los Altos businesses already use alternative products, while those who still use EPS do so only in small quantities and “are simply waiting for the ban to take effect.”

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