Disposable-Free Dining

Berkeley takes another step forward in its commitment
to reducing waste in our landfills


The City of Berkeley has taken its commitment to zero waste a step further, passing new legislation that changes the rules on throwaway cups, containers, and other disposable food ware. In late January, the Berkeley City Council gave a unanimous thumbs-up to the Single Use Disposable Foodware and Litter Reduction Ordinance, which will phase in changes for Berkeley’s restaurants and takeout spots.

To comply with the new law, all takeout food ware, including utensils, must be compostable by January 2020; dine-in foodware must be reusable by mid-2020. These regulations apply to all eateries, including fast-food chains. A 25-cent charge for disposable cups (plastic or paper) will also go into effect in January 2020, with the goal of convincing customers to bring their own reusable cup from home.

Written by Council member Sophie Hahn and Mayor Jesse Arreguin, the legislation was described by the Ecology Center’s executive director Martin Bourque as “the single most comprehensive piece of municipal legislation in the United States aimed at reducing single-use disposable food ware.”

The process of writing the legislation took a year and included six public listening sessions, hundreds of written comments, and consultation with environmental groups, restaurants, and other businesses. The section of the law involving straws was rewritten when disability advocates objected, noting that plastic straws are sometimes essential for people with certain types of disabilities.

“In the Bay Area,” said Hahn, “food and beverage packaging makes up more than half of our litter.” The City of Berkeley estimates that Berkeley alone, with a population of 120,000, disposes of 40 million cups each year. “It’s not a problem we can recycle our way out of,” said Bourque at a press event preceding the vote. “We have to find ways to reduce it.”

—Rachel Trachten

Berkeley’s new law means that plastic utensils, straws, lids, and other disposable items are provided only upon request rather than being tossed in with all to-go orders.