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Calif. could be first state to ban foam containers

Associated Press / August 29, 2011

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SACRAMENTO - Restaurant owner Gary Honeycutt says a push in California’s Legislature to ban the plastic foam containers he uses to serve up takeout meals could cost him thousands of dollars in an industry where profit margins are razor thin.

BJ’s Kountry Kitchen, in the heart of California’s farm country, uses about 26,000 of the 9-inch foam clamshells a year, mostly for takeout by the customers who come in for the restaurant’s popular breakfast omelets.

“We put cheese on those omelets. And when we put the cheese on, it’s really hot and bubbly and it goes right through the biodegradable stuff,’’ he said. He said he expects his costs would more than double if the state requires him to use only biodegradable cartons.

The bill by state Senator Alan Lowenthal, a Democrat, would prohibit restaurants, grocery stores, and other vendors from dispensing food in expanded polystyrene containers beginning in 2016.

If signed into law, the measure would make California the first to institute a statewide ban on such containers.

More than 50 California cities and counties have similar bans.

The bill would exempt school districts and city and county jurisdictions if they implemented programs that recycled more than 60 percent of their foam waste.

Lowenthal said litter from the foam containers is one of the most abundant forms of debris found in city streets, sewers, and beaches.

“It’s not biodegradable, it’s not compostable, and if it’s in the water for a long time, it breaks up into small beads and lasts for thousands of years,’’ he said. “It costs millions to clean up beaches.’’

Other jurisdictions across the country have banned the foam, including Suffolk County in New York and Freeport, Maine.

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