Municipalities throughout California are striving toward their zero-waste goals. Big strides have been made toward achieving these goals through expanded recycling programs, the introduction of composting and educational campaigns.

But many cities are risking falling short.

Why? Because these programs, while laudable, aren’t enough. They don’t get to the heart of our waste problem: Attacking trash at the source. These programs deal with managing our waste instead of finding ways to reduce the generation of trash.

That’s why the city of Berkeley’s ground-breaking Disposable Foodware and Litter Reduction Ordinance is so important. Berkeley is joining cities across the country taking action on plastic pollution. But it’s going further.

The ordinance is the most comprehensive piece of waste-reduction legislation proposed yet. And it needs to be. Only bold action will help stem the tide of plastic waste that is clogging our streets, streams, rivers and oceans.

The ordinance gets to the core of the problem by requiring restaurants to provide only reusable food containers and utensils for dine-in service, use approved takeout materials, charge 25 cents for to-go containers and provide straws and napkins only upon request or at a self-service station.

You might ask, why not encourage more recycling? It’s simple: While recycling is important, it doesn’t address the problem fully. As more and more disposables are produced and used for minutes or less, recycling cannot keep up.

In the United States, 2.4 million tons of plastic were recycled in 2010. That’s only 8 percent of the plastic generated. If we want to stop plastic pollution, we need an upstream prevention approach to refuse, refill and reuse first.

Our throwaway and to-go culture is largely to blame for the amount of litter on our streets and in our inland waters and open seas. Clean Water Action’s Bay Area litter study found that food beverage packaging comprises a majority of the litter in the region. Eighty percent comes from trash on urban streets that gets washed into local and coastal waters.

This plastic debris injures and kills fish, seabirds and marine mammals. Plastic debris adsorbs and transports pollutants, which can bioaccumulate up the food chain, polluting seafood — bringing plastic pollution from our streets right to our dinner plates.

This is also a big problem for municipalities to deal with, requiring ongoing and costly management of litter and waste to protect the environment. The fundamental problem is that we can’t clean up all the trash that pollutes waterways, and cleanup doesn’t address the unsustainable consumption of resources involved in producing packaging and single-use disposable goods.

We must stop this pollution at its source. That’s where Berkeley’s proposed ordinance comes in.

Clean Water Action has found that food-business operators that eliminate disposable packaging and make the switch to reusable food containers are often surprised at their waste reduction, cost savings and customer satisfaction.

We surveyed Berkeley food establishments and found strong support for reducing disposable food packaging waste to address environmental impact. Though 74 percent of survey respondents used all disposables or a combination of disposable and reusable containers in their operations, the majority of businesses would support legislation to charge for disposable cups (58 percent) and containers (67 percent) if all businesses are required to charge the same amount.

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