Inter-Departmental Correspondence

Board of Supervisors



April 10, 2008


April 22, 2008







Board of Supervisors


Supervisor Adrienne J. Tissier


Regulating the County’s Use Of Disposable Food Service Ware.



Adopt an ordinance adding Chapter 4.106 to the San Mateo County Ordinance Code regulating the County’s use of disposable food service ware.



Commitment: Preserve and provide people access to our natural environment

Goal(s): 14. Important natural resources are preserved and enhanced through environmental stewardship.



Polystyrene is a petroleum-based, lightweight plastic material commonly used as food service ware by retail food vendors operating in the County. Polystyrene, often referred to by the Dow Chemical trademark Styrofoam, has also become a problematic environmental pollutant given its non-biodegradable, non-recyclable and nearly non-reusable nature. Polystyrene-based, single-use food ware constitutes a portion of the litter found throughout the County which increases clean up costs to the County and the Cities within the County.


Effective ways to reduce the negative environmental impacts of disposable food service ware include reusing or recycling such containers and using biodegradable or compostable materials made from renewable resources such as paper, cardboard, corn starch, potato starch and/or sugarcane. Affordable compostable food service ware products are increasingly available for most food service applications such as cups, bowls, plates, lidded and hinged containers. These products are more ecologically sound than those made from polystyrene and can be turned into compost material. In several instances, local businesses and national corporations have successfully replaced polystyrene foam food service ware and other non-biodegradable food service ware with affordable, safe, biodegradable products.



This proposed ordinance was brought to the Board on February 26, 2008 and referred to the Environmental Quality Committee for further review. On March 11, 2008, the Environmental Quality Committee reviewed the proposed ordinance and recommended its adoption. The proposed ordinance presented for your consideration restricts County Departments from acquiring and using polystyrene foam and solid disposable food service ware products and requires the use of biodegradable, compostable, reusable, or recyclable food service ware. The same restrictions would apply to food service vendors providing prepared food on property owned or leased by the County either pursuant to a contract with the County or pursuant to a contract with another entity who manages or operates a facility on County owned or leased property. Accordingly, this ordinance would apply to the San Mateo County Event Center and the Coyote Point Museum, because these entities are operating a facility on County property.


In order to give the departments and our contracting food service providers time to adjust any agreements and to deplete existing supplies, the ordinance, if adopted, would not be effective until July 1, 2008.


The County should lead the way in the protection of the natural environment, the economy, and the health of its citizens. After we have had the opportunity to evaluate the effects of this ordinance, I would recommend considering an ordinance that would apply to food service providers located in the County’s unincorporated areas.



Unknown. However, it is anticipated that some County departments and agencies may experience a slight increase in costs for disposable food service ware.