Polystyrene ordinance

On Tuesday, August 28, 2012, the City Council adopted San Mateo County's Polystyrene Food Ware Ordinance. The ordinance applies to all food vendors in the city and became effective on November 1, 2012. Read about how to comply with the ordinance.

Ordinance overview

The ordinance will help protect the health and safety of the residents, wildlife, and habitat in Menlo Park, while reducing the amount of waste sent to the landfill. The ordinance includes the following:
  • Prohibits food vendors, including restaurants, delis, cafes, markets, fast-food establishments, vendors at fairs, and food trucks, from dispensing prepared food in polystyrene containers labeled as No. 6
  • Does not prohibit the use of polystyrene for pre-packaged foods (e.g., pre-packaged meats or eggs in markets)
  • Does not apply to non-food businesses that use polystyrene for packaging
  • Does not include lids, straws, or utensils

About polystyrene

Polystyrene is a type of plastic that is used globally. It can be a hard plastic that can be shaped with detail, like plastic utensils and straws, or it can be expanded to make what we know as polystyrene foam hinged containers, cups, etc. Polystyrene (PS) is usually labeled with a number 6.

Although polystyrene is inexpensive, there is a greater cost to the environment because it:
  • Breaks up into smaller pieces that wildlife can mistake for food
  • Does not biodegrade and it is commonly found as litter in waterways, storm drains and open spaces
  • Is made out of petroleum, a nonrenewable resource
  • Is not recyclable when it is contaminated with food
  • Is very difficult to clean up and taxpayers pay for cleanup costs
  • Leaches harmful chemicals into our food and drink that may impact our health

Alternative food ware products

There are alternative food ware products that are affordable, made of renewable resources (e.g. plant fiber, oils, and starches), and that will biodegrade in existing municipal and industrial composting facilities.

Plant fiber food ware

Plant fiber food ware includes products made out of paper or cardboard, such as paper cups / plates and pizza boxes. These products can be used for hot or cold foods and drinks and do not need any certification.

Fully recyclable products

These include plastics 1, 2, 4, and 5, as well as aluminum containers.

Biodegradable/compostable products

These are made out of materials that break down into the environment naturally. Biodegradable plastics (bioplastics) are products made out of vegetable oils, fats, or starches, and are usually used for cold foods and drinks. Bioplastic cutlery is resistant to heat. In order to be composted in industrial or municipal facilities, bioplastics must be either Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) certified, or meet the requirements for the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) test D6400.

ASTM D6400 tests plastics and products made from vegetable oils, fats, or starch, and assures that they can be rapidly and safely composted in professionally-managed municipal and industrial composting facilities.

Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) is a non-profit organization that certifies products that biodegrade in a relatively short period of time. For more information about companies that offer BPI-certified products, please visit the BPI website. Menlo Park's composting program only accepts BPI-certified bioplastics because they can break down within 90 days at our facility. The "compostable" label to the right is designed for consumers, haulers, and composters to distinguish compostable bioplastics from non-biodegradable plastics. Look for this logo to make sure the products are BPI-certified.

Alternative food ware suppliers

Alternative food ware products are available from distributors such as Cash and Carry, Costco, Restaurant Depot, SF Supply Master, Smart and Final, and Sysco Food services. They are also available at online stores such as WorldCentric, Web Restaurant Store and Compostable Food Service and Kitchen Products. You can also check if your current distributor offers compostable food ware alternatives.