Stick a fork in it

The fall of plastic foodware

Michael Seton

On May 3, 2023, the Larkspur City Council unanimously approved a new law banning the use of single-use plastics within Larkspur. This decree impacts any entity located in Larkspur selling prepared food to the public, including restaurants, grocery stores, delis, bakeries, carry-out quick services, farmers markets, food trucks and any other business requiring a health permit. The new ordinance requires food providers to offer reusable cutlery and serving items for all dine-in locations. 

Items such as plastic stirrers and plugs will be banned along with bioplastics. For take out meals, food providers must use fiber-based or aluminum materials. Restaurants will also be encouraged to limit to-go food accessories, such as straws, to a request-only basis and to charge a 25-cent fee for disposable cups. Food sellers who provide waste containers for customers must also provide separate receptacles for solid waste, recyclables and organics.

While it does not apply to Redwood’s food services, Lisa Herberg, Tamalpais Union High School District’s student nutrition services director, indicated that schools are generally trying to move in a more environmentally friendly direction.

(Infographic by Sarah Goody)

“Schools have come a long way over the last 30 years by removing Styrofoam plates, cups and trays and [have] transitioned to more compostable paper products as they become available and affordable,” Herberg said. “As the prices of compostable utensils and other containers are reduced due to more restaurants making the change, it will become affordable for schools [as well].”  

Any change at Redwood will be up to Herberg’s replacement as she is retiring at the end of this school year.

The primary purpose of the new law is to prevent plastic waste from being discharged into San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. It should also reduce litter going into local landfills. In addition, the rules will provide guidance to businesses and the community to help them comply with recently adopted state legislation to reduce waste. Larkspur’s new ordinance essentially mimics Marin County’s May 2022 Reusable Foodware Ordinance to ensure consistency for all food operators across the county. 

Many local residents, including Larkspur’s Julie Munro, expressed their support at the March 15 Larkspur city council meeting and public information session.

“I’m so disturbed by the proliferation of our plastic pollution, especially since COVID-19,” Munro said at the meeting. “More than ever, Larkspur needs to join the other incorporated jurisdictions and adopt the Marin ordinance and be a good example. It has to start here, in this small way.”

After everything else has decomposed, plastic waste still remains. (Photo courtesy of ShutterStock)

Junior Jack Beard supports the new measure as well and believes Redwood should voluntarily abide by the new law even if it is not legally required.

“Being able to have reusable utensils is just better for the environment, and I hope we can keep steering in that direction,” Beard said. “Every time you use a plastic utensil, [it is important to] recognize where it’s going.”

The county of Marin will enforce the law for Larkspur and the many other Marin communities including Tiburon, San Anselmo, Mill Valley, Novato, San Rafael and Fairfax who have already enacted, or are about to enact, the county’s ordinance. While the new law will take effect immediately, it will not be enforced until Nov. 10, 2023, to give local businesses time to understand the new requirements and bring their operations into compliance.