Expanded polystyrene — commonly referred to as Styrofoam — could be banned from use by food providers in San Luis Obispo.
The San Luis Obispo City Council will discuss a possible ordinance Tuesday.
The council was asked to consider the ban 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.
The push is one being made nationwide by environmental advocates.
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Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is not only found in food and drink containers. It is also commonly used as a packing material and in some disposable ice chests.
A range of ordinance options — such as prohibiting the use of food and drink containers made of polystyrene or completely banning its sale within the city — will be discussed at the study session Tuesday. The council will then decide if it wants to pursue an ordinance.
No cities in San Luis Obispo County have banned use of EPS. However, in California, more than 80 cities and counties, including Monterey city and county and Ventura County, have regulations restricting its use.
Here, only Morro Bay has an informal policy that discourages the use of polystyrene by groups renting city facilities.
SLO Foam Free members contend that the ban would benefit the community because it is not compostable and cannot be recycled, and it has negative environmental impacts and associated health risks.
“Styrofoam is creating so much waste in the landfill that will never go away,” said Janine Rands, chair of SLO Foam Free.
San Luis Paper Co., a longtime vendor of industrial paper goods and janitorial supplies, sells to businesses in San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties.
Bill Kalpakoff, who has worked at the company for 26 years, said that there are certain areas of the county that still purchase a lot of expanded polystyrene, but not so many in San Luis Obispo. However, it is still being used.
“There are really very few that use it (in San Luis Obispo),” he said. “If any polystyrene is used by San Luis Obispo companies, it is because they are struggling to stay in business.”
The city’s informal survey of 20 food-based businesses 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.
In some ordinances passed by other jurisdictions, an undue hardship clause was created to exempt businesses from the ban if it was too costly, said Greg Hermann, the city’s special projects manager.
“There is willingness for customers to be as green as possible, as long as it doesn’t kill them,” Kalpakoff said. The potential ban needs more discussion — especially about which products can be recycled locally, he added.
Some EPS alternative containers, although compostable, can’t be recycled in San Luis Obispo County, he said.
“There is more of a perception than a reality that it gets composted,” he said.
San Luis Obispo’s Climate Action Plan includes a strategy to divert waste from the landfill to be recycled, composted or reused.
Part of that plan includes introducing an ordinance that would require biodegradable food packaging in restaurants and for other food vendors.
If the council pursues a ban of EPS, it will also have to decide what role the city will play in enforcing it, such as actively investigating complaints through code enforcement or simply creating a brochure or an informational website, Hermann said.
The City Council study session will be held at 4 p.m. Tuesday at 990 Palm St.