SLO rolls out restrictions on plastic bottles, cups and straws

Under a new San Luis Obispo ordinance taking effect Thursday, customers must request straws or get them from dispensaries like this one at Woodstock’s.
Under a new San Luis Obispo ordinance taking effect Thursday, customers must request straws or get them from dispensaries like this one at Woodstock’s. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

San Luis Obispo’s restrictions on single-use plastic bottles, straws and cups take effect on Thursday, as the city works to change consumer habits and reduce trash.

One new city ordinance requires customers to request straws at restaurants (or get them from dispensers), and another bans single-use bottles and cups at the Farmers Market, Concerts in the Plaza, and other events on city property.

The City Council passed the two ordinances on Nov. 7. Since then, the Downtown Association has been working with vendors and businesses to make sure they’re aware of the new laws.

The changes will take some getting used to, and two local business representatives say they’re facing more costly drink container options or discontinuing some offerings as a result of the ordinances.

At the Rib Line BBQ Restaurant’s booth at Farmers Market, owner Brian Appiano said he will temporarily stop selling ice tea and lemonade until he can find a replacement for his plastic cups.

“We’re looking at the different options to serve our water, lemonade and ice tea,” Appiano said. “We’re even considering branding reusable Rib Line water bottles and offering some kind of deal if people refill, like gas stations do. But we really haven’t worked it all out yet.”

While this week’s Farmers Market is canceled due to forecasted rain, according to the event website, any plastic soda bottles or plastic cups handed out to customers moving forward will be in violation of city policy.

“The intention of the ban is to educate and inspire residents to mitigate their carbon footprint and find alternatives to plastics; it is not intended to curtail sales or stifle business,” said Dominic Tartaglia, the Downtown Association’s executive director. “The average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year — an incredible amount of waste that typically ends up in creeks, oceans, and open space.”

Vendors are expected to use aluminum soda and water cans as an alternative to plastic bottles, or perhaps use paper cups to serve poured drinks such as water or lemonade.

Pizza Solo manager Griffin Davis said his restaurant will start using aluminum water cans at Farmers Market, but the cost for customers will increase — to $2.50 for an aluminum water can versus $1.25 to $1.50 for the plastic water bottles Pizza Solo has used in the past.

“Customers will have to pay a little more because the cost of the aluminum cans for water is more expensive than plastic water bottles,” Davis said.

Davis said that Pizza Solo recently paid more than $13 for 12 aluminum 16.9-ounce water cans. In comparison, they were paying $5 for a case of 24 plastic water bottles, also 16.9 ounces per bottle, Davis said.

Before the change, Pizza Solo and Rib Line both were selling aluminum soda cans, which will continue.

Appiano said that he has heard one business is considering filtering and canning its owner water. He said Rib Line uses plastic plates to serve its meals, and he fears those could be banned someday too.

“In that case, I guess we’d just hand people a rib,” Appiano said. “I don’t know what we’d do.”

No water-filling stations exist on the street for Farmers Market visitors, Davis said, and so drinks have been a popular item, even if customers don’t buy food from their booth.

“While market vendors are continually researching alternatives to single use to provide their customers, patrons of The Market and Concerts in the Plaza should bring their own reusable, refillable beverage containers for these events moving forward,” Tartaglia said.

The council delayed the start date of the new ordinance to allow time for businesses to prepare for the change and to work toward adding new drinking stations on city property, which it’s planning over the next couple of years. Those will allow people to fill reusable water bottles at city venues such as Sinsheimer Stadium, French Park, Mission Plaza and the Ludwick Community Center.

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