Packing peanuts may soon be shipping out of Palo Alto.
The same goes for cups, plates, egg cartons, ice chests and other foodware made of expanded plastic foam, best known as Styrofoam.
As part of the city's ongoing war against the squeaky substance, the City Council is preparing to consider an expansion of the city's existing ordinance, which was adopted in 2010 and covers Styrofoam containers at local food service establishments. If the new rule goes in effect, Palo Alto would prohibit the sale and distribution of foam peanuts and blocks, as well as foam food containers.
Just as with the prior ban, the main reason for the proposed new prohibition has to do with creek pollution. A new report from Public Works staff claims that Styrofoam, foodware and packaging is "found in local creeks and throughout Palo Alto's watershed."
The report calls plastic foam "one of the most prevalent forms of litter" -- one that contributes about 114 tons of garbage to the city's waste stream each year. In May, during the National River Cleanup Day at Matadero and Adobe creeks, more than 415 pieces of plastic foam were reportedly found at the two creeks. Another 945 pieces were recovered from the two creeks in September, during the Coastal Cleanup day.
"These pieces are notoriously problematic to collect as they continuously break into smaller pieces with age and can float or blow away," the Public Works report states. "These plastic pieces can be mistaken for food by wildlife, impair water quality of chemicals that leach from plastic, and contribute to broader concerns of plastic pollution loading in San Francisco Bay and beyond."
Today, Styrofoam coolers and food containers are available at six pharmacies, two grocery stores, two mail stores and one hardware store, according to city staff. If the new ordinance is adopted, enforcement would be based on complaints and periodic compliance checks.
So far, the new restriction has been sailing through the city approval process with no opposition. The city's two community meetings on the topic -- targeting local businesses and the plastic-industry representatives, respectively -- netted no participation from either segment, according to Public Works. Managers from Hassett Ace Hardware, Kinkos FedEx office, Mollie Stones, Safeway, The UPS Store and Walgreens have responded to the city to indicate that the expanded ordinance would "not result in any undue hardship on their business," according to the Public Works report. Other stores, including Country Sun, Peninsula Hardware, Sigona's Farmer's Market and Whole Foods, already comply with the proposed restrictions and the few public letters that the city received on the subject were in support of the new restriction.
William Rosenberg, a resident of Bruce Drive, called the restrictions "an important step in eliminating these items from our waste stream."
"Since there are already viable, commercially available, alternatives which are much friendlier to our environment, this should be enacted (and enforced) immediately."
If the council concurs, Palo Alto will join other cities and counties with similar prohibitions on the books. The list includes Los Altos, Mountain View, Sunnyvale and the City and County of Santa Cruz, according to Public Works staff.