Plastic Pollution

Move Over, Straw Ban: Berkeley Mandates 25 Cent Fee on Disposable Cups

The city's new policy mandates almost all disposable foodware be compostable by 2020.


Chakrapong Worathat/

Berkeley, California, has fired the latest shot in the war against waste with a new mandate that all restaurants must charge customers a fee for using disposable cups—a novel policy that gives us all a glimpse of the limitless regulations on disposable items we can come to expect in a post-straw-ban world.

Berkeley's cup fee law passed unanimously on Tuesday, with all eight city councilmembers, plus the city's mayor, voting in favor of the world-changing legislation.

"History. #Berkeley passes the most ambitious, groundbreaking policy to reduce throw-away foodware in the nation," said Mayor Jesse Arreguin in a tweet following the vote. "Recycling is no longer a solution—if we want to save the planet, it's time to reduce, reuse and compost," said Councilmember Sophie Hahn, the bill's author.

The bill would require that all food service businesses impose a 25 cent fee on customers who make use of a disposable cup, with businesses being allowed to keep that money.

In addition, the ordinance bans dine-in restaurants from using most disposable foodware. Restaurants without bussing service must keep three bins on hand for recycling (required to be blue), compostable waste (green), and stuff destined for a landfill (gray or black). Those restaurants that are still allowed to use disposable items must ensure that they are compostable.

The 25 cent cup fee provision seems to be hogging all the attention, grabbing mentions in headlines at USA Today, CBS News, and U.S News and World Report. It also seems to be the least impactful part of Berkeley's law.

Unlike plastic bag fee policies—which require businesses to charge customers for something they were happy to give away for free, and which is much higher than the cost of providing the bag itself—customers already pay a per-unit price for their to-go cup of coffee or drive-thru milkshake.

Because businesses get to keep the 25-cent cup fee under Berkeley's police, it's easy to imagine them just lowering their base price for drinks by a quarter, and then imposing the fee on top of that, working out to a zero net new cost to businesses or customers.

To its credit, Berkeley's cup-fee policy does require restaurants to go out of their way to advertise that their customers are paying a new fee, mandating that the 25-cent charge appear on menus and receipts, and food service staff are also required to verbally inform people of the fee when they're placing orders over the phone.

It's possible that that state-mandated virtue signaling might get some people to purchase their Big Gulps elsewhere. Others might see through the accounting shell game and decide to swallow the fee along with their coffee.

Berkeley's cup-fee ban signals that bans and restrictive regulations developed for specific environmental panics about straws and plastic bags are now migrating to other disposable items.

Proposals to ban or restrict things like paper receipts and cigarette butts have been floated at the state level in California, on the grounds that they're both unnecessary and part of a larger problem of marine plastic pollution.

There's no real reason that these same arguments can't be redirected to justify bans on plastic candy wrappers, say, or maybe additional fees on plastic water bottles. I'd go on, but I don't want to start giving people ideas.

The cup fee goes into effect in 2020, while the compostable mandates don't become effective until June of that year.

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  1. They always take the form of taxes, I notice. Is it really this easy to pass new taxes?

    1. The government doesn’t keep the profits so it’s not a tax. It’s just compulsory speech.

  2. the ordinance bans dine-in restaurants from using most disposable foodware”

    don’t these idiots know that by not using disposable food ware you require them to clean dishes and that is no more and possibly more environmentally damaging that paper plates which are bio-degradable. Cleaning dishes is a bigger burden on sewer & fresh water systems and requires more workers.

    1. some may think more workers is great but more workers makes denser city living and a greater burden on transportation

    2. requires more workers.

      Shhh… you just made washing dishes even more attractive.

    3. It also has the advantage of requiring more food inspectors to make sure the dishes and glassware are cleaned, stored and washed properly. Then we will need others to see that the restaurants are complying with the new rules, bookkeepers to deal with the revenues, and supervisors for all of them.

      Win win.

    4. For Berkeley, these morons think they get water from Magic Hippie Land rather than piped from the Sierra Nevada mountains via EBMUD.

      Having to wash more things literally lowers local water reserves.

      Fucking morons.

      1. Additionally, Commifornia has large swaths that are deserts without natural water supplies to sustain millions of residents.

  3. I’m telling you, everything will go back to being plant and animal products within the decade.

    1. Lambskin condoms will be taxed as a luxury item but suggesting women use the rhythm method for free will be a human rights violation.

      1. Lambskin condoms taxed? Seriously? We have much more dire problems to address to save the planet from a much more serious disaster. The more common and lower cost artificial latex and polymer condoms, given their low environmental degrade-ability, must be banned! There’s no need to worry about the unintended consequences of the state exercising its good hand in the matter and causing a rhythm method explosion though, because state-funded abortions are a right, after all!

        1. The fetuses must be composted.

    2. PETA has something to say about that!

      Some of the shit they are trying to ban were plant based products decades ago. Paper bags, wooden bowls and serving utensils, wood floors instead of carpet (tile even better), wood paneling instead of drywall, etc.

    3. I’m telling you, everything will go back to being plant and animal products within the decade.

      Are you telling me they are going to dump their windmills and solar panels for fossil fuels?

  4. The democrat progressive communists love to tax, regulate, and control.

    It’s the only way they can achieve orgasm.

  5. “Recycling is no longer a solution?if we want to save the planet, it’s time to reduce, reuse and compost,” said Councilmember Sophie Hahn, the bill’s author.

    “Indeed, I am also sponsoring a bill that will *tax* those recycling fuckers!”

  6. I can’t wait for the positive feedback loop to kick in. More dishwashing means more code violations and Department of Public Health bureaucracy.

  7. Does that include cups from jock straps too?

  8. I thought global warming climate change was the #1 environmental concern.

    When landfilled, plastic permanently removes carbon from the earth’s carbon cycle.

    Composting inherently causes CO2, and to a lesser extent CH4 and N2O, emissions as bacteria and other organisms digest carbonaceous compost materials.

    Also, emissions from a paper plant are far worse than emissions from a plastics plant per unit of produciton. Also, plastics are lighter and stronger than biodegradable paper products, so transportation emissions are greater.

    Berkeley’s new rule will increase greenhouse gas emissions. Don’t they care about the environment? Or, are they scientifically illiterate?

    1. just irrational morons stuck on a dangerous combination of stupid and nannie.

      There is only one cure for such……..

      1. Oh, there’s more than one cure for such.
        Here is a list (not comprehensive)L


        1. You may have forgotten 30.06.

          1. I haven’t forgotten but, there are too many .30 cal/7 mm variants to list them all.

            Besides, I’m Australian and we live by Rule .303 (Breaker Morant reference, if you don’t already know).

  9. if we want to save the planet

    Reached for comment, the planet said, “Fuck those people. I’ve been around for 4 billion years, and I’ll be around for another 4 billion more. The dinosaurs ruled for tens of millions of years, eating all my trees and shitting everywhere, and I turned their asses into oil and coal. Do humans think they can do worse? Try me. A few million years after the last human croaks, there will be no sign they were even here. Arrogant shits.”

    1. When people say the planet they really mean the biosphere part of it. Just in case you really didn’t know that.

      1. Then they’re even more fucking stupid because the biosphere will be just fine. Slime mold is pretty hearty.

      2. Actually they really mean whatever part of the planet suits their agenda du jour. I doubt most of them have any idea what the biosphere is, anyway.

    2. Tony doesnt get jokes especially ones that are based on the reality of the situation.

    3. I think George Carlin said that

  10. San Francisco: At least we’re not Berkeley!

  11. What! No bans on plastic cups?

  12. The green bins contain compostable waste which would be food scraps.

    This will make things much easier for the ever growing homeless population.

  13. “Because businesses get to keep the 25-cent cup fee under Berkeley’s police, it’s easy to imagine them just lowering their base price for drinks by a quarter, and then imposing the fee on top of that, working out to a zero net new cost to businesses or customers.”

    Free market competition to the rescue (at least in this case)!

    1. Sounds like an opportunity for a revenue boost, everything is now served in disposable cups @25 cents ea.

      1. Perhaps, and in a city as expensive as Berkeley some businesses will probably get away with it, but ultimately game theory and the free market will prevent most businesses from just boosting revenues that way

      2. It’s an opp’ty for customers to bring their own cups.

      3. Are there free refills?

  14. Banning disposable cups is discriminatory to those too handicapped to wash up after themselves.

  15. Compostable plastic – made mostly from farming waste – was once pretty prevalent. It should be again. I have no problem with policies, including taxes, that harm industries producing the toxic waste choking our planet, and making it look like a giant garbage dump.

    1. You might rethink your opinion if you read the article on about compostable plastics. It turns out very little of it actually gets composted.

      1. Article in the WSJ about the folly of the whole thing… “Compostables, Meant to Cut Plastic Waste, are Stumbling”

      2. I compost all my plastic waste into my coal burning stove.

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