FREMONT — Starting Jan. 1, the only plastic-foam food packaging you'll find in Fremont will be on supermarket shelves.
The city on Tuesday joined about 40 state jurisdictions in prohibiting food vendors — from taco trucks to fancy restaurants — from using the once ubiquitous plastic-foam takeout containers, which do not decompose in landfills.
"I think the passage of this ordinance is a statement by us "... that we're committed to good environmental stewardship," Councilmember Bob Wieckowski, the law's main sponsor, said shortly before the council unanimously passed the ordinance.
Several environmentalists spoke in favor of the law, which also had the Chamber of Commerce's backing.
No restaurant owners spoke out against it, but Johnnise Downs of the California Restaurant Association said that alternative packaging costs more and often doesn't work as well as plastic foam.
The Fremont law targets all establishments that provide prepared food including supermarkets, caterers and cafeterias. The law also will apply to large groups renting city facilities.
Instead of polystyrene plates, cups, bowls, lids and trays, they will have to use containers that can be composted or recycled.
Inspectors from the Union Sanitary District, who already make yearly visits to food vendors, will be asked to ensure compliance.
Fines will escalate from $100 to up to $500 a day. However, city officials said vendors would receive only a warning the first time they were found using the banned packaging. Also, vendors will be able to apply for a temporary waiver if they need more time to use up their polystyrene inventory or are struggling to find a suitable alternative.
Environmental groups are seeking to do away with plastic-foam containers, which they say end up in landfills and waterways and are sometimes ingested by wildlife.
The council hesitated to ban the products two years ago, stating that most of the compostable alternatives would end up in landfills where they emit methane, a greenhouse gas.
But council members expressed support for a ban last December after learning that the city will be switching this year to a landfill that can collect methane and convert it to useful forms of energy.
Fremont will become the fifth city in Alameda County to implement a plastic-foam ban, joining Alameda, Berkeley, Emeryville and Oakland.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-353-7002. For more Fremont news, read his blog at www.ibabuzz.com/tricitybeat.