City Council Expected to Pass EPS Ban

After months of outreach trying to get restaurants used to the idea, the city’s moving ahead with its ban on Styrofoam-style take-out containers, a uniquely problematic type of litter because of the way expanded polystyrene (EPS) breaks apart and infiltrates the region’s waterways.

On Tuesday, the City Council will discuss the controversial ban slated to go into effect Jan. 1 next year for multi-state chains and a year later for everyone else.

Since the city resumed talking about the ban in February, after giving in to pressure from DART container company last year, dozens of local restaurant owners came out against it, arguing that other food containers cost more and that an ordinance banning EPS foam would become a huge burden on small businesses. To ease the pain, the city agreed to add a financial hardship opt-out for restaurants with gross annual incomes of less than $300,000.

The city conducted a study that found cutting out EPS containers actually saves money. Lee’s Sandwiches, The Loving Hut in Oakridge Mall and Blue Rock BBQ on Meridian Avenue switched to paper containers, which reduced the volume of their trash and thus their garbage collection rates.

The city posted a list online of vendors that sell EPS alternatives. It also hosted an event to showcase alternatives.

San Jose will become one of several Bay Area cities and one of 70 in California to impose such a ban. A recent analysis found that EPS made up about 8 percent of all litter found in San Jose’s storm drains. The system dumps water into creeks already deemed by the state as “impaired by trash,” including the Guadalupe River and Coyote Creek.

To qualify for a state-issued permit to keep discharging storm water (more on that below), the city has to promise to reduce litter by 40 percent by 2014, 70 percent by 2017 and 100 percent by 2022.

The new rule follows a plastic bag ban that requires people to pay 10 cents per bag at the grocery store or bring their own, an ordinance that’s reduced plastic bag litter in storm drains by 89 percent and in creeks by 60 percent, according to a memo signed by Mayor Chuck Reed and council members Sam Liccardo and Rose Herrera.

More from the San Jose City Council agenda for August 27, 2013:

• A jobs development program through Work2Future will cost the city $1.7 million through 2014. The nonprofit is the administrative arm of the federal Workforce Investment Act, a law designed to create jobs and better educate the workforce. The jobless rate in San Jose (7.9 percent) remains higher than that of the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont metro area (6.5 percent).  And up to 20 percent of the city is underemployed, the city says.

• Federal law requires the city to submit an annual report about its storm water system, which collects water through 30,000 drain inlets. The goal is to keep the city accountable for reducing pollution carried through the storm water system, whose discharge ends up in the region’s streams and the Bay. This permit is a big reason the city decided to outlaw EPS takeout containers.

• The city got a $233,106 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security by way of the county to pay for emergency preparedness training, liaisons with local school districts and some new equipment.

Architectural services for a Diridon Caltrain station project ran a higher-than-expected tab, pushing the cost up another $188,000 to about $1.36 million.

• Councilwoman Madison Nguyen plans to fly next month to Suwon, South Korea, global HQ for Samsung Corporation, to attend a cultural festival.

• A service agreement with the San Jose Downtown Association will cost the city $390,000. The organization promotes the city’s downtown parking program, downtown businesses, the ice rink and cultural events.

WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Who’s paying for Madison’s boondoggle to Korea?  How much will this cultural festival cost the residents of San Jose in lost services? Will Madison use vacation time, or will San Jose residents cover her salary?

    If she loses her bid for Mayor, maybe she can snag a lobbyist position with Samsung!

  2. “… pushing the city to hire outside counsel to figure out how to deal with the situation.”

    The same administration that takes offense at the use of labor arbitrators requires outside counsel just to guard itself against its own day-to-day incompetence. I wonder which firm council members dial up when they need reminding about the safe and effective way to utilize the Charmin?

  3. With two recent homicides nearly on the doorsteps of city hall not a single item regarding public safety as on the city council agenda. They have their priorities out of whack, or maybe that is par for a whacky city council.

  4. Banning plastic bags and Styrofoam may or may not be a good idea.

    But we sure as hell can’t tell from the City Council’s ignorant and politicized decision making process.

    These bans are being pushed by an “activist” group called “CleanWater”, and judging from their list of executives and organizers and fundraisers, there is no reason to believe they know ANYTHING about clean water or public health and safety.  They are just, pure and simple, leftist activists with money and time (i.e., trust fund children) who simply “want to matter”.

    The plastic bans are ego-driven and not science-driven.

    As an example of the detachment from reality that infects these little narcissistic authoritarians, here is a justification for the plastic bag ban that was offered up to the Los Gatos City Council:

    “There is a floating island of plastic trash the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean, north of Hawaii. It has been named the Great Garbage Patch.”

    Stuart Wisong
    Los Gatos Author

    Among other things, this raises some important questions that Commander-in-Chief Obama might want to consider, perhaps while flying in his helicopter from the Rose Garden to the first tee:

    > Is the U.S. Navy aware of this floating plastic island the size of Texas just off-shore from U.S. territory?

    > Does the U.S. Navy know whether or not countries or institutions unfriendly to the U.S. might be using this floating island for nefarious purposes? Missile bases? Illegal drug labs or distribution centers? Money laundering? Offering non-compliant health insurance plans?

    Regardless of what the President knows about synthetic Texases potentially menacing Hawaii, the people of San Jose, expect and are entitled to have the important policy decisions affecting their lives decided on the basis of rational, competent, and comprehensive intellectual analysis of science-based facts.

    It is offensive and maddening to have our community ruled by the whims and fantasies of shallow, self-absorbed mythologists who make up alarming narratives and spread them on the internet.

    City Council members need to stop their practice of legislating cosmic solutions based on fear, alarmism, and misguided activist zeal, and govern on the basis San Jose’s real public needs and real public priorities.

  5. Sam

    If you take the first letter of each name, what you have is a collective schmo, which is an appropriate term for this group.

  6. I went out to dinner last night.  I couldn’t finish the entire meal and asked for a container to take the rest of the food home.

    In the future are we supposed to bring our own food containers into a resturant like we do with our grubby cloth bags to the grocery store?

    The idea of food containers is based on convenience and sanitation.  Not having brought a tuppeware food container from home what would I have done w/ half a porterhouse – put it in my pocket.

    Sooner or later as Western civilizaton begins to break down we will no doubt be faced with massive infectious disease – some due in part to the unsanitary way in which we are forced to handle our food.

    People can now take their growlers (sp?) to microbreweries for refills on beer.  Will the day be far off when we lug our pails down to Safeway to get some milk?

    I sense that we are right on the brink of insanity.

    • There are alternatives to Styrofoam containers, that isn’t the question.  The opponents are saying that the alternatives are more expensive.  More than likely some of them will begin charging extra to make up the cost.
      Whether or not you want to pay for it is up to you.

  7. I shopped at a store in San Jose that is still providing shopping bags for customers. I asked them about it. I was told that as long as the bags are a certain thickness, they are allowed to provide them. If that is the case, what was the TRUE reason for the plastic bag ban, if they are allowing stores to still provide them at a certain thickness?

    • He gave you wrong information.  The ordinance in San Jose allows the use of plastic bags if they are made of material which is at least 40% recyclable.  There are also exceptions for plastic bags used for produce and meat products.

      • But weren’t the plastic bags we were receiving, before the ban, recyclable? What was the use of the ban if they still allow the stores to provide them? If San Jose allows the use, then technically, there is no ban. I thought they were trying to keep the plastic out of the ocean and out of the creeks, etc. If they still allow stores to provide them, I can’t see how the ban is effective…just an inconvenience to the citizens, but for what purpose?