New Styrofoam ban to take effect across SLO County next spring

Oct 9, 2019

Products made out of polystyrene and expanded polystyrene (EPS)—commonly known as Styrofoam—will soon be prohibited in all of San Luis Obispo County. A years-long effort by many to pass a countywide ordinance aimed at stopping the use of polystyrene ended Wednesday. The ban will go into effect in six months.

Several area cities already have polystyrene and EPS bans in place, like Pismo Beach, Morro Bay and San Luis Obipso. Now that extends to the entire county.

The Integrated Waste Management Authority—or IWMA—passed the ordinance. The IWMA is a governmental board comprised of 13 elected city officials from around the county. The new law says businesses can no longer serve food and beverages in Styrofoam containers like clamshells, and bans the sale of Styrofoam ice chests, marine buoys and packing peanuts.

The only two board members who voted against the measure are current county supervisors Debbie Arnold and John Peschong. Among the reasons for their opposition, both said they thought the penalties for non-compliance outlined in the ordinance are too harsh.

Board member Jeff Lee of Grover Beach disputed that argument, saying the ordinance passed Wednesday goes easy on fines and penalties unless there’s “willful violation and significantly different perceptions on how businesses proceed.”

Lee said the version passed Wednesday stipulated a “much less onerous requirement for fines and penalties,” than an earlier draft, and that “enforcement starts with education.”

The ban doesn’t cover every use of expanded polystyrene. Peschong questioned if people will be in violation for getting packaging made out of the plastic foam.

“Let's say I order something on Amazon and it comes to my house and it wrapped in Styrofoam,” Peschong asked staff. “Is that Styrofoam banned in this county?”

“Exempt,” replied Patti Toews, IWMA program director. “We do not have control over Amazon.”

“Right. So packaging is exempt,” Peschong said.

“Packaging that you order from Amazon is exempt,” Toews said. “Or let's say you go to Idler’s [appliance store], purchase a refrigerator, it comes to your house delivered wrapped in Styrofoam...exempt.”

After the meeting Toews told KCBX News there will be an extensive education campaign over the coming months, and that county officials aren’t “out to break any knees.”

The point is to help the environment, Toews said, and that she will be interacting with businesses around the county to get everyone on board with the new ordinance.

As Peschong said, another argument raised against passing the new polystyrene ban is that “it is going to cost more money for our small businesses.”

IWMA board president Aaron Gomez rejected that claim.

“We always look at costs to a very specific entity versus the cost that has been spread out to all of our jurisdictions and we've basically been subsidizing these products for a long time, but we don't seem to factor that into the cost of how it affects us,” Gomez said. “We as a board that covers waste management for the entire county, it is this board's duty to look at the entire picture.”

The ordinance directs businesses to use reusable, recyclable or biodegradable packaging.