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Sustainability News

Posted on: April 18, 2022

Reusable Foodware Ordinance Heads to Supervisors on April 19, 2022

The Marin County Board of Supervisors plans to introduce the ordinance April 19 and consider placing it on the May 10 agenda for adoption. Details can be found on www.marincounty.org/foodware. Should it receive Board support, the ordinance would affect food vendors only in unincorporated parts of the county; it’s up to each town and city to establish its own policy. If the ordinance is adopted, County staff plans to work with local municipalities to seek countywide consistency for all food Marin facilities.

Staff from the Marin County Community Development Agency (CDA) is aware of the recent challenges faced by food-related businesses because of COVID-19 and delayed the ordinance’s introduction to be respectful of economic realities. Additionally, enforcement of the ordinance would begin 18 months after its adoption. The gradual introduction would allow businesses time to switch sourcing of supplies and deplete existing stock. However, the proposed ordinance would take a proactive approach in educating all retail food facility owners regularly of the requirements of the proposed ordinance and taking enforcement action only as necessary.

CDA staff has worked several years on the ordinance, namely those from the Sustainability Division and the Environmental Health Division

The draft ordinance was first introduced in February 2020, and feedback from both the public and the Supervisors was incorporated in the latest version. The movement to ban plastic foodware is partly fueled by reaction to a public online survey in 2019 that showed 90% support for requiring food vendors to use foodware that are reusable, recyclable, or compostable. 

The ordinance would require the use of reusable and compostable foodware materials such as plates, bowls, cups, utensils, and trays at restaurants, grocery stores, delis, bakeries, carry-out vendors, minimarts, farmers markets, food trucks, and other food outlets. Should foodware or foodware accessories made of compliant compostable natural fiber not be commercially available, as determined by the EHS Director or their designee, the County may approve a temporary exemption of specific nonreusable foodware or foodware accessories items until they are made commercially available.

Under current rules, only a limited amount of synthetic material can be composted in Marin; the rest goes into landfills. The county’s largest waste product processor, the WM EarthCare Compost Facility at the Redwood Landfill & Recycling Center north of Novato, does not accept many commonly labeled compostable materials such as bioplastics. Also, franchised refuse companies around Marin accept slightly different materials for recycling, composting, or hazardous waste disposal and have different strategies for outreach to the community. 

Once adopted by the County of Marin, the City of Mill Valley will consider the adoption of similar regulations to apply to those businesses operating in city-limits. 

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