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Berkeley Targets Disposable Foodware With New Ordinance

Among its new requirements: a 25 cent charge on all disposable cups

Annie P./Yelp

Earlier this week, Berkeley City Council voted unanimously on a new ordinance that will radically change the way restaurants operate in the city. It requires all disposable food packaging to be compostable and for all diners eating in-house to receive reusable wares. It also charges restaurant and cafe customers 25 cents for every disposable cup — a significant uptick percentage-wise on, say, a daily cup of coffee on the way to work.

Berkeley became the first city to ban styrofoam in 1988, and it hopped on the recent wave to ban plastic bags. But the new ordinance is likely the biggest effort to get rid of single-use food packaging in the entire country.

The ordinance will be rolled out slowly. First up: Restaurants will need to stop handing out certain disposables — such as utensils, napkins, and lids — automatically by the end of January. Diners will need to ask for them or find them at a self-serve area.

The headier stuff will come in January 2020. By then, Berkeley restaurants must use certified compostable packaging for to-go orders. That’s also when the 25 cent cup fee will kick in, encouraging customers to bring their own mugs to coffee shops and restaurants.

Then, in July 2020, all restaurants will need to stock reusable plates, cups, and utensils for dine-in customers — that includes fast food chains, banh mi shops, delis, doughnut spots, barbecue joints, boba tea shops, and other models that tend to rely on disposables.

At the city council meeting, 15 Berkeley restaurants and businesses signed a letter in support of the new ordinance, including Chez Panisse, The Butcher’s Son, Smoke Berkeley BBQ, Algorithm Coffee, Gather, Augie’s Montreal Deli, and Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen. But for others, the new ordinance is baffling. Gregoire Jacquet, the owner of 16-year-old Gregoire’s, tells the San Francisco Chronicle that his entire business model is based on to-go orders — the compostable requirement is no problem, but he does have a few seats. “I can’t say you can’t eat here. I don’t have the means to wash dishes,” he says.