City councils in both cities passed draft ordinances Tuesday night that would take effect in the next few months, but give businesses extra time to comply.
The Morro Bay ordinance, which still needs final approval after a second reading of the ordinance at a future meeting, will become effective May 1. The new regulation will allow an exemption of up to six months for businesses that can prove to the city that a transition away from the use of expanded polystyrene products (Styrofoam) is a hardship.
Once the Morro Bay ordinance takes effect, business owners will be required to use disposable food containers that are “biodegradable, compostable or recyclable products.” Most businesses won’t need six months to remove Styrofoam stock, according to city officials.
The Arroyo Grande ordinance is essentially the same as the Morro Bay ordinance, though businesses would not be expected to comply with the ordinance for the first six months after it is approved, according to city development director Teresa McClish.
The ban will likely return to the City Council for a second reading at its next meeting Feb. 9.
The cities of San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach already have passed similar ordinances.
Janine Rands, chair and coordinator of SLO Foam Free, which pioneered the first Styrofoam ordinance in San Luis Obispo, commended the councils’ decisions on Tuesday, saying they represented the “next step to getting this to the entire county.”
“We’re very, very excited about it,” she said Wednesday.
Rands said now the group will target its efforts toward Grover Beach, to create a Styrofoam “barrier” at the county’s beach cities. After that, they will work with the Integrated Waste Management Authority to spread the ban to the entire county.
In Arroyo Grande, most of the public comment focused on Styrofoam’s impact on waterways like the Arroyo Grande Creek, where local environmental groups say they routinely find expanded polystyrene products during cleanup days.
“What we need to do, is we have to realize this is a huge problem,” said Anita Shower, a Grover Beach resident and president of the Eco Club 5 Cities. “Our club also cleans up the Village area once a month on Saturdays, and the only thing we ever pick up are cigarette butts and Styrofoam. Through the entire Village — that’s it.”
Though all of the Arroyo Grande City Council members said they believed evidence points toward expanded polystyrene products being harmful to both humans and the environment, there was some concern that the city did not receive enough input from the business community on whether requiring a switch to biodegradable or recyclable replacements was the best economic choice.
What we need to do, is we have to realize this is a huge problem.
Anita Shower, Grover Beach resident and president of the Eco Club 5 Cities
City staff provided a copy of the proposed ordinance to the Arroyo Grande Chamber of Commerce, but did not receive any response for or against the ordinance.
This prompted councilwoman Barbara Harmon to conduct a survey of about 40 businesses in the city.
From her unofficial survey, Harmon said she found the majority of businesses had or were pursuing switching from expanded polystyrene products, though several said they could not switch entirely from using Styrofoam products for a variety of reasons, including that alternative products don’t keep soup as warm.
“For me, I understand the importance of it (banning Styrofoam), but our businesses have already been proactive in promoting it voluntarily, so I really feel like we’d be punishing them if we said, ‘You must, you shall,’” Harmon said. “I think they know their businesses best, and what their bottom line is or their business plans on when they can afford to introduce it.”
Harmon cast the only dissenting vote against the ordinance Tuesday night. Councilmembers Kristen Barneich, Tim Brown and Jim Guthrie, as well as Mayor Jim Hill, all voted in favor of the ban.
“I think this is the trend, this is the direction we should be going,” Guthrie said. “We are not punishing businesses for doing the right thing. We are actually asking business to compete within the same framework.”
The ban will return to the Arroyo Grande City Council at its next meeting Feb. 9 for a second reading. If approved, it would take effect 30 days after its second reading, but enforcement would not begin until Aug. 9.
In approving their draft ordinance, Morro Bay officials cited studies showing that Styrofoam contains “carcinogens and neurotoxins that are hazardous to humans,” noting that the toxin “Styrene” is leached from containers with warm food or drink, oils and acidic foods.
Styrofoam products also take “several decades to hundreds of years to deteriorate in the environment or landfill” and frequently pollute ocean waters, according to Morro Bay city management analyst Janeen Burlingame.
“During the beach cleanup at Morro Rock in 2014, 94 pounds of trash were collected with the most prevalent material collected being plastics and cigarette butts,” Burlingame said in a staff report. “Much of the plastic collected was polystyrene that is not recyclable.”
“This is nasty stuff,” said Morro Bay councilman John Headding at the meeting.
The city plans to inform businesses of the new rule.
“We’re making the right effort to take a product out of circulation that has proven scientifically not to be beneficial to us,” said Morro Bay councilwoman Christine Johnson.
In a city survey that 30 businesses responded to, about half said they used Styrofoam products and the other half used alternative products.
This is nasty stuff.
John Headding, Morro Bay Councilman
Before Tuesday’s decision, a member of Morro Bay’s Public Works Advisory Board, Stewart Skiff, visited local businesses to discuss the proposal. Nearly all of them were aware of a likely change in the proposed ordinance, and most had already begun using biodegradable food and beverage containers, he said.
The transition to recyclable products would cost slightly more, in the range of around 4 cents per unit, but that’s not significantly more, according to Rob Livick, the city’s public works director.
While the ordinance prohibits use of Styrofoam by businesses operated within the city, Styrofoam products in grocery stores that are packaged from outside of the city aren’t subject to the new regulation.