HAYWARD -- A year after its adoption and three months after the city's ban on polystyrene food containers went into effect, the eco-unfriendly beast commonly known as Styrofoam may be endangered, but it's far from extinct.
Alex Ameri, Hayward's deputy director of public works, said the city has checked 200 restaurants for compliance and found that, overwhelmingly, proprietors have switched from foam containers to ones that are biodegradable.
"We have not come across any egregious violations," Ameri said. "When we have come across something, we mention it to the owner and tell them they have to switch, and usually the response is that (they) will comply."
He said usually it involves a misunderstanding -- for example, a restaurant not knowing that foam cups are included in the ban.
Two out of 10 eateries that were visited by a reporter Thursday were found to have Styrofoam containers visible behind the counter, and a third contacted by phone acknowledged only "partial compliance."
The restaurant owners declined to comment, but one who had made the switch had some insight on the matter.
"It is more expensive," said Queenie Lam, manager of Ohana Hawaiian Barbecue. "And it's not very user-friendly."
Lam said the paper to-go boxes can be quick to degrade.
"If the food is moist, it doesn't take long before it starts to collapse," she said. "It's too soft."
The biodegradable boxes cost about twice as much, and Lam said the business owner needs to absorb the increase given the current economy.
"It's bad timing," she said. "When the economy is better, people might be willing to pay a little more for their food. But if it's helping the Earth, what can I say?"
Hayward was the largest city in the county without such a ban when it was adopted in October 2010. Polystyrene foam was banned in Berkeley 20 years ago, and similar ordinances more recently have passed in Oakland, Fremont, Alameda, Albany and Emeryville.
On Oct. 3, San Leandro finalized an ordinance based on Hayward's ban. It will go into effect in November 2012.
Ameri said all restaurants in Hayward have been told about the ban, with city staff members talking to either an owner or a manager at each establishment.
Violators are subject to a $100 fine for the first offense, $200 for the second, and $500 for the third and thereafter. Enforcement is done through the Public Works Department, but Ameri said they have not yet issued any fines.
"The emphasis so far has been enforcement through public education, disseminating information through literature, as opposed to 'Here is a fine,' " he said. "We haven't gotten to that point yet. But if we see repeated, blatant violations, we have that tool and we are not shy about using it."
For more information, go to www.hayward-ca.gov/foamban or call 510-583-4725.