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Palo Alto bans plastic produce bags. But is it enough?

Maggie Angst, The Mercury News on

Published in Business News

Although Palo Alto, Calif., adopted one of the strictest plastic bans in the Bay Area Monday night, some residents and city leaders contend that the measure doesn't go far enough.

Palo Alto City Council unanimously voted Monday night to implement an ordinance prohibiting the distribution of plastic straws, utensils and stirrers in all food service establishments starting this January and produce and meat bags in grocery stores and farmers markets starting in July 2020.

The proposed bans are part of a larger city effort -- called its Zero Waste Plan -- to divert 95% of its waste from landfills and reduce 80% of its greenhouse gases by 2030.

The plan calls for a phased implementation, which many residents, environmentalists and at least one city council member voiced strong opposition to.

The bans passed Monday night represent phase one of the Zero Waste Plan.

Phase two, which the city plans to implement in 2021, would require all food service establishments to charge for non-reusable cups and containers, provide reusable foodware items to all dine-in customers and install dishwashers. The last phase, planned for 2025, would require food service establishments to provide reusable foodware for all takeout orders.

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Councilwoman Alison Cormack asked the council Monday to consider adding the phase two requirement that food establishments charge for nonreusable cups and containers to the initial ordinance.

City staff, however, informed her that developing a system for those charges would be too difficult to put in place within six months -- when the ordinance goes into effect.

After hearing the staff input, Cormack withdrew her request but said that she was "not happy about it."

"I remain impatient, so I'll just say that to the extent that we can speed any of these up -- please don't wait," she said. "If you think that any of these can be done sooner, please don't wait."

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