Santa Rosa City Council bans single-use disposable food ware beginning Jan. 1, 2022

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Andrew Graham | August 4, 2021

Say goodbye to the Polystyrene to-go box.

A variety of single-use food containers will be banned in Santa Rosa beginning Jan. 1, 2022 under a new ordinance passed by the city council Tuesday night.

The city has a Santa Rosa Zero Waste Master Plan that calls for reducing the city’s trash output by more than half — from today’s 2.5 pounds of trash per person per day to one pound per person per day — by 2030.

In pursuit of that goal, the city’s new ordinance will ban the use or sale of food service containers made of Polystyrene foam. The ban will eliminate the ubiquitous white foam “clamshell” food box used by food truck and to-go food vendors.

The city will also outlaw food service ware containing chemicals known as PFAS. Sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found these chemicals to last for a long time in both the human body and environment without breaking down. Research has found various adverse impacts on human health.

Also under the ordinance, restaurants will provide plastic food ware only upon request. Restaurants can only offer reusable dishes and cutlery for on-site dining.

With the council’s vote, Santa Rosa joined a wave of Sonoma County cities passing ordinances banning single use food containers. Cloverdale, Healdsburg, Petaluma, Sebastopol, Sonoma and Windsor have all passed some version of the ordinance, though two of those cities are now considering an amendment to include the ban on PFAS.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on an ordinance in late August.

The ordinances have been pushed by Zero Waste Sonoma, a joint powers board governing waste management for both the unincorporated county and Sonoma County cities.

“We are thrilled that Santa Rosa not only passed the model ordinance that we created but went even beyond it,” Zero Waste Sonoma director Leslie Lukacs said. The city council surpassed the model ordinance by requiring restaurants to offer reusable dishes and cutlery for on-site dining.

At the state level, an initiative to ban single-use plastic packaging and containers and mandate all utensils be reusable, recyclable or compost friendly has qualified for the November 2022 ballot.

City staff and Zero Waste Sonoma will begin an outreach campaign to businesses about their options in the weeks to come, city communication manager Jaime Smedes said Wednesday. Zero Waste has found alternatives to all the food containers and wrappers being banned, Lukacs said. The organization also offers $250 grants to businesses to purchase reusable food containers and utensils.

In Santa Rosa, businesses that face “undue financial hardship” from the transition can get a one-year waiver, according to a news release distributed by the city on Wednesday morning.

“We understand the challenges this shift may cause local businesses, however, it is imperative that societal shifts occur to change our rate of consumption and waste,” Council member John Sawyer said in the release.

City council members hope the ordinance will both put Santa Rosa among the cities at the forefront of curbing trash generation, and clean up the local environment.

Trash has littered the Russian River watershed and the city’s own culvert and creeks. During a 2017 collection the Russian River Watershed Association found that 60% of the pieces of trash collected were single use plastic items, according to the news release.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or On Twitter @AndrewGraham88