Say goodbye to Styrofoam — a SLO County ban is close to approval

San Luis Obispo County could soon join a growing number of California counties to fully ban polystyrene products within its borders.

The San Luis Obispo County Integrated Waste Management Authority (IWMA) is expected to finalize a ban on Wednesday, marking its second attempt to prohibit polystyrene — including what is commonly called Styrofoam — products in just over a year.

The IWMA board chose to once again pursue a ban after its last attempt in 2018 was unsuccessful in part due to concern over the potential impacts to small businesses and restaurants in the area.

The board approved and performed a first reading of the ordinance at its last meeting Sept. 11 and is expected to conduct a second reading of the ordinance Wednesday.

“We are moving in a direction that we need to move in,” county Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who represents District 2, said during the September meeting.

How would the Styrofoam ban work?

If approved, the ordinance would prohibit food and beverage providers in San Luis Obispo County from “using, providing, distributing or selling polystyrene or EPS (expanded polystyrene).” It would also prohibit those products from being used or sold at special events.

Separate from some other similar ordinances, the IWMA ban would also apply to meat trays — the foam plates meat sold in a store is packaged on — and egg cartons.

Instead, these businesses would be encouraged to use reusable, biodegradable or recyclable products.

Under the ordinance, food providers would be eligible for a one-year exemption if they can show that the ordinance will create “an undue hardship or practical difficulty.” Exemptions for public health and safety requirements or medical necessities will also be available.

Businesses found in violation of the ordinance would be subject first to a written warning, then fines of up to $500.

North SLO County cities are only without existing bans

The new ordinance applies to all areas under Integrated Waste Management Authority’s jurisdiction, including all seven incorporated cities as well as unincorporated San Luis Obispo County.

The change would enforce a ban in both Paso Robles and Atascadero — the only two San Luis Obispo County cities that have yet to pass such an ordinance.

San Luis Obispo approved the first Stryofoam ban in 2015, followed by Pismo Beach, Arroyo Grande, Morro Bay and Grover Beach.

“We have the precedent of many, many jurisdictions here and farther away that have successfully implemented ordinances to contain this damage — to contain this menace — and I think it is time for these ordinances to be harmonized countywide so that the entire Central Coast starts to get a lid on this huge problem,” local activist and Atascadero resident Eric Greening said at the Sept. 11 meeting.

At least one North County representative disagreed.

“I think we are using IWMA in order to get the North County to comply, and that’s not what we are going to do,” Paso Robles City Council member John Hamon said during discussion.

Hamon described the ban as a “feel-good ordinance,” and said he believed that market demand would eliminate polystyrene use if that was what the public wanted.

He was the lone vote against the ordinance on Sept. 11.

When and where is the IWMA meeting?

The Integrated Waste Management Authority will meet Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. in the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors’ Chambers at 1055 Monterey St. in San Luis Obispo.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune

Kaytlyn Leslie writes about business and development for The San Luis Obispo Tribune. Hailing from Nipomo, she also covers city governments and happenings in the South County region, including Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach and Grover Beach. She joined The Tribune in 2013 after graduating from Cal Poly with her journalism degree.