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Update on Redwood City’s Proposed Polystyrene Ban

Update on Redwood City’s Proposed Polystyrene Ban

At the April 9, 2012 City Council meeting, an ordinance was introduced to prohibit retail food vendors in Redwood City from using polystyrene-based disposable food service containers – typically known as Styrofoam.

The Council set a public hearing on the “second reading” of that ordinance, and proposed adoption, for May 7, 2012. If adopted by the Council, the ban on polystyrene food service containers would be implemented as of January 1, 2013. This will provide 30 days for the ordinance to become effective and six months as a transition period.

Key elements of the proposed ordinance are:

  • Banned products are single-use disposable products used in restaurants and the food service industry for serving and transporting prepared, ready-to-consume food and beverages including plates, bowls, trays, and hinged or lidded containers (“clamshells”), but excluding disposable packaging for unprepared food.
  • Automatic exemptions contained in the ordinance are prepackaged foods, and polystyrene coolers and ice chests.
  • Other requests for exemptions may be made for undue hardship where a suitable alternative does not exist for a specific application and/or situations where no reasonably feasible alternative exists to a specific and necessary prohibited container.
  • The application process for seeking an exemption is through the County’s Environmental Health Division and, if granted, is for the period of one year.
  • The County’s Environmental Health Division will administer and enforce the ordinance and may issue fines for violations in an amount not to exceed $100 for a first violation, $200 for a second violation, and $500 for a third violation. After ample opportunities to comply, any fines levied would go to the County, earmarked for use to supplement outreach and education around polystyrene.
  • Effective date established as January 1, 2013, in order to provide 30 days for the ordinance to become effective and six months as a transition period

Redwood City will work with San Mateo County to reach out to affected businesses in order to ensure they are aware of the upcoming ban and have sufficient information to transition to non-polystyrene containers.

Polystyrene is often referred to by its Dow Chemical trademark “Styrofoam.” It is a petroleum-based, lightweight plastic material with many uses and commonly used by retail food vendors for disposable take-out purposes. According to the County, polystyrene has been identified as an environmental pollutant in part because it is non-biodegradable and generally non-recyclable and non-reusable. Various state and federal agencies indicate that polystyrene persists in the environment indefinitely without breaking down and consequently is showing up on roads, waterways, and the ocean. The County is moving to reduce the daily use of disposable foodservice containers in order to help reduce the volume of this pollutant and related litter, and has requested cities to do the same.

Updated information is available at


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