Pismo Beach City Council moves to ban Styrofoam food containers

Pismo Beach City Hall.
Pismo Beach City Hall. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Pismo Beach is set to join San Luis Obispo as the only cities in the county to ban Styrofoam food and drink containers.

The Pismo Beach City Council unanimously voted in favor of an ordinance Tuesday night prohibiting expanded polystyrene foam food and drink containers — Styrofoam is the trademarked brand — within the city.

“Our intent was to address the issues with food vendors, the cups and the polystyrene food containers, which are the main problem I think we’ve encountered,” Councilman Ed Waage said during discussion. “I think this ordinance covers all those. I think we’re in pretty good shape there.”

The ordinance will return to the council Dec. 15 for a second reading and final approval. If approved, it will go into effect Jan. 14, giving local food providers enough time to get rid of their Styrofoam products over the holiday season, said Michael Draze, the interim community development director.

Frankly, we’ve talked to a number of business people in this community and others, and they are already converting.

Michael Draze, interim community development director

Pismo Beach’s ordinance is similar to one approved in July by the San Luis Obispo City Council, which banned polystyrene food and drink containers because of concerns that they contribute to litter and are not biodegradable.

“I’ve been extremely involved in beach cleanups and creek cleanups and things of that nature, and I’ve just seen Styrofoam as a pretty significant problem,” Cal Poly senior Cory Jones said at the Pismo Beach meeting Tuesday. “Pretty much across the board in my age group, people are supportive of this, and we’d be pretty grateful if you’d move forward with this ordinance.”

The ordinance prohibits food providers — including those in city facilities and at public events— from selling or providing “any disposable food or drink container made from expanded polystyrene” in the city, and requires them to use biodegradable, compostable or recyclable replacements.

The ban does not apply to polystyrene products that are covered in a more durable material, like hard plastic coolers, nor does it apply to food that has been prepared and packaged with expanded polystyrene outside the city. It also does not apply to packing peanuts or similar Styrofoam products not used for food packaging.

Violations would result in fines, though for a first offense, the city manager or a designated city employee could require the food provider to buy biodegradable, compostable or recyclable food containers in an amount equal to the fine, according to the ordinance. Businesses can apply for a one-time, six-month exemption if they can prove that switching from Styrofoam products would create an undue financial hardship.

“Frankly, we’ve talked to a number of business people in this community and others, and they are already converting,” Draze said Tuesday. “They’ve already converted away from the polystyrene foam, so I think we’re having a lot of cooperation from the local businesses.”

More than 80 cities in California have similar regulations. The San Luis Obispo council decided to pursue an ordinance after a coalition of groups and individuals in the city urged the council to pass a ban.

The city of Morro Bay is also considering a potential ban. At its Sept. 8 meeting, the Morro Bay City Council directed staff to develop an ordinance to bring back for consideration regulating the use and sale of expanded polystyrene food containers and products in the city. It is scheduled to discuss the proposed ordinance Dec. 8.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie