EL CERRITO -- The city is considering a ban on free single-use bags similar to ordinances that have gone into effect in many other urban areas of the state, along with a ban on polystyrene containers for takeout food.
El Cerrito plans to base the single-use bag law on a model ordinance prepared by Recycle More, the West Contra Costa joint powers authority for managing solid waste, according to the city's environmental analyst, Garth Schultz.
The city also will piggyback on an environmental impact report on the bag ordinance certified by Recycle More in April.
Richmond, San Pablo, Hercules and Pinole also belong to Recycle More, although El Cerrito, Richmond and San Pablo are the only members currently considering the bag ordinance, Schultz said.
The El Cerrito ordinance would ban retail stores, except restaurants and nonprofit charities, from offering free paper and plastic bags at their checkout stands.
Stores could offer paper bags for 5 cents apiece if they are made from at least 40 percent recycled material; no plastic bags would be allowed.
Single-use plastic bags cause problems at garbage transfer stations, landfills and recyclables collection and processing facilities, according to the city.
"The purpose is to dramatically reduce the use of single-use bags, eliminating waste and the litter concern," Schultz said. "The plastic bag doesn't really break down in the environment and the ocean."
All the cities in Alameda County, the cities of San Francisco and San Jose, along with the unincorporated areas of San Mateo, Santa Clara and Marin counties, have similar ordinances, according to a city release.
Recycle More's model ordinance is a combination of the San Jose and San Francisco ordinances and a Los Angeles County ordinance, said Chris Lehon, the agency's executive director.
El Cerrito has lagged the other areas in passing an ordinance in part because it was waiting for Recycle More to complete its regional EIR, Schultz said.
"A couple of years ago, this was all fairly new and people were waiting to see what would happen," he said. "We wanted to take time to make sure we weren't jumping out ahead of stuff."
Recycle More spent $50,000 on the EIR that took about nine months to complete, Lehon said.
The polystyrene container ban would apply to restaurants and other food-service facilities that sell takeout food.
These businesses would be required to replace the styrene takeout containers with reusable or recyclable containers or with containers that break down easily when composted.
Styrene gets into storm drains and from there into the Bay and ocean, potentially harming wildlife, Schultz said.
The material can also leach from the containers into food and beverages when they are heated in microwave ovens or when the styrene is in contact with foods that are fatty or acidic, according to the release.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Toxicology Program are evaluating changing the listing of styrene to a "probable" carcinogen from its current listing as a "possible" carcinogen, according to the city release.
Richmond and Hercules have styrene bans, and other West County cities are considering following suit, Schultz said.
No EIR is necessary for the styrene container ban, Lehon said.
El Cerrito's city staff will make presentations on the ordinances and listen to residents' comments on Tuesday, June 11 and Tuesday, July 9. Both meetings will be at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 10890 San Pablo Ave.
The staff hopes to bring ordinances before the City Council on Aug. 20 that, if passed, would go into effect on Jan. 1.