Considering joining a burgeoning environmentally-friendly trend, Burlingame may be among the first cities in San Mateo County to ban plastic straws, containers, cups and other food service materials that are not reusable or compostable.

City officials launched a survey seeking feedback by Monday, Sept. 30, from residents, merchants and others on the initiative designed to reduce the community’s carbon footprint.

For her part, Mayor Donna Colson said she supported the proposal as a means of showing Burlingame’s commitment to sustainable practices through mindfulness about natural resources.

“I think we need to take proactive responsibility for reducing waste and this is a good first step,” she said.

Though a formal policy is yet to be crafted while city officials wait for the survey window to close, Colson said it is expected any forthcoming regulations could resemble a version also considered by county officials.

“It would most likely be modeled on the county’s work,” she said.

Danielle Lee, deputy director with the county Office of Sustainability, said county officials are also yet to approve such a regulation but are working with colleagues in local cities to further discuss the proposal.

Pacifica officials recently banned plastic drinking straws and drink stirrers while a policy similar to the one raised in Burlingame is being considered by South San Francisco officials who held off on taking action until more information regarding the fiscal impact facing merchants could be gathered.

To that end, Colson said getting feedback from business owners will be essential in drafting a policy which addresses the variety of perspectives on the issue. She balanced that view, however, by noting many restaurants and eateries have already started to transition away from using traditional plastic straws, cups, plates and other materials which officials are considering regulating.

“They’ve been great. A good number of our restaurants and businesses are already on board with this,” said Colson, who added she has seen Burlingame consumers contribute to the effort by bringing their own reusable materials to eateries as well.

Under the proposal, officials are considering disallowing single-use disposable food service ware made of plastic, including items such as plates, bowls, trays, clamshell boxes, utensils, straws, cups, lids and any other material used to serve prepared food. Such non-biodegradable items are known to collect in landfills, litter waterways and land on beaches, posing a threat to open spaces, wildlife and other natural resources.

A city report details the pervasiveness off such material.

“This is a significant issue for our community and others because over 1.3 million pounds of trash enter the San Francisco Bay ever year, and 80% of plastic pollution consists of single-use food and beverage packaging,” said the report.

Recognizing the damage caused has fueled a rise in popularity of utensils and wares made from natural resources such as paper, sugarcane stalk, bamboo, wheat, straw and other biodegradable material which are much more environmentally friendly. The goods made from natural resources would continue to be allowed under the regulation considered by Burlingame, according to the report, while exemptions could be available for tin foil, and medical accommodations.

Recognizing the potential inconvenience facing the food service industry should officials ultimately adopt the policy, Colson said a fair amount of time would be granted for the initiative to be implemented.

Looking ahead, Colson said she anticipated officials will consider collecting feedback over the fall with an eye on potentially adopting an ordinance before the end of the year. She suggested officials may also weigh a ban on sales of electronic cigarettes as well, with hopes of improving the community’s health and general quality of life.

Noting the heightened awareness around environmentally-sound practices, Colson said she believes Burlingame can contribute to a global issue by taking action locally.

“This is getting to be a crisis and we are going to need to manage that in an aggressive way,” she said.

Visit burlingame.org/departments/sustainability/disposable_food_service_ware.php to examine the proposal and offer feedback.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 105

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