With all this rain we’ve had in Oakland recently, my thoughts go to all of the styrofoam you can watch floating down the storm drains and canals.  If only there was an aqua-can man.  Alas, I continue.

In 2006, Oakland City Council passed an ordinance banning Styrofoam food service to-go containers.   This was a great act and many restaurants stopped selling it.  Unfortunately, the people that sell to restaurants were not required to stop selling it to restaurants that were based in Oakland or operated in Oakland.  Consequently, many restaurants are still using that material.  Using the material (and being caught by code enforcement) carries the following fines:  1st Time is a warning, second is $100 fine, third time is $200 fine, then a $500 fine, etc.

How many restaurants are still using styrofoam?  From my experience, pretty much every Mexican restaurant and taco truck I’ve checked out still use styrofoam and I’ve recently eaten at a Japanese restaurant that served me in styrofoam and hence.. i recalled my desire to write this post.

East Bay Restaurant Supply said they never did carry Styrofoam containers and that they carry the  biodegradable options for restaurants in Oakland.

Jetro Cash and Carry on the Oakland Embarcardero said they do carry the containers but most of their business  is bioware or the plastic units.  They said that they highlight the green options.  I asked the representative there if he thought that restaurants and food purveyors knew that they weren’t allowed to serve in styrofoam and he said that everybody knows.  I advised him to put a sign up stating that the styrofoam to-go containers are illegal in Oakland and Berkeley.

I believe that the purveyors of food served in styrofoam don’t realize that it’s actually illegal.  It’s tough for a consumer to report someone who just made a taco for them to the city code enforcement, though.  There’s a lot of love in that taco.  I’ve been told by Jetro that they do know and should be fined but I still can’t seem to muster up the stomach to report them.  I let them know and wait for the confusion, slow realization and then the awkward “are you gonna report us” silence to follow… Then walk away feeling as if I just rejected someone that gave me a valentine in fourth grade.

The City of Oakland created assistance documents to help restaurants comply with the ordinance and to insure that they were aware of it. That info is here.

You can also call Allen King at Excellent Packaging Supply and he’ll steer you right.  He specializes in  biodegradable food service items and he’s a passionate leader!

What is wrong with polystyrene foam?

Polystyrene foam is made from crude oil. Like all conventional plastics, it is non-renewable, non-biodegradable, and virtually non-recyclable.  It’s very light and takes up lots of space making it expensive to transport and consequently expensive to recycle.  Polystyrene foam food service ware ends up in landfills, waterways or the ocean. It breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces which are often mistaken for food and ingested by marine  animals, birds and fish. Medical evidence also suggests that chemicals in polystyrene foam are carcinogenic and may leach into food or drink.

Recycling Styrofoam. It ain’t easy.  These people can help!  And good luck.

Universal Waste Management, 721 37th Ave Oakland – They take block Styrofoam.

Mannequin Madness at (510) 444-0650; this small business often accepts block Styrofoam
for reuse in its shipments.    Don’t wait until Christmas to start making your leg lamps!

GB Industrial, 1528 Atlantic Street, Union City CA 94587 (the material is light, so shipping fees are nominal), or call GB Industrial at (510) 489-0881 to arrange an appointment to drop off your Styrofoam. GB Industrial will reuse the Styrofoam as shipping material.