Expanded polystyrene food and drink containers — the white foam packaging commonly referred to as Styrofoam — could be banned from use in San Luis Obispo by early next year.
The San Luis Obispo City Council directed staff to create an ordinance banning the use of expanded polystyrene (EPS) food and drink containers and the retail sale of EPS products. The ordinance may also ban any food and drink containers that can’t be recycled, reused or composted. The new ordinance will likely come before the council early next year for approval.
Public outreach will be conducted as it is drafted.
The decision to implement a ban comes after the council was asked to consider it in March by SLO Foam Free, a coalition of groups and individuals in the city seeking to eliminate the sale and commercial use of expanded polystyrene from restaurants and grocery stores.
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On Tuesday, more than a dozen people spoke in favor of ridding the city of expanded polystyrene and asked the council to make sure to include the ban at places such as schools and hospitals. No one spoke against it.
“Every piece of plastic ever made is still around,” said Andrew Christie, of the local Sierra Club.
Councilman Dan Carpenter was the only council member not in favor of the ban, saying that he would prefer that the San Luis Obispo County Integrated Waste Management Authority (IWMA) seek a countywide change first.
“I think this is a personal choice,” said Carpenter. “I am always hesitant to over-regulate.”
However, in March the IWMA discussed creating a policy to regulate EPS and decided not to pursue it, according to the city. The reasons were not made clear Tuesday.
San Luis Obispo would be the first city in the county to ban EPS. However, in California, more than 80 cities and counties, including the city and county of Monterey and Ventura County, have regulations restricting its use.
The council asked staff to pursue an ordinance similar to that of Santa Cruz, one of the most stringent ordinances in the state. That ban includes all EPS food and drink containers; all food and drink containers, straws, cup lids and utensils that can’t be recycled, reused or composted; and other EPS products such as packing materials and ice chests.
An informal survey done by the city of 20 food-based businesses in San Luis Obispo found that businesses that no longer use EPS containers said their costs rose between 15 percent and 60 percent when they switched.
Surveyed businesses that currently use EPS containers said they do so because they are less expensive and because other products may not be as durable for hot food or liquids.
The council agreed Tuesday to create an “undue hardship” clause that would give more time to implement the change for food vendors who may struggle with the added costs.
The council also agreed to create an “in lieu of fine” program that would allow businesses to show proof of purchase of acceptable products instead of paying a fine for a first offense.