Credit: Andy Sherar | Mustang News

Businesses will continue to be able to use styrofoam containers in San Luis Obispo County. 

Board members of the San Luis Obispo County’s Integrated Waste Management Authority (IWMA) voted Feb. 10 to postpone the ban on polystyrene and expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam food containers and products in the county.

The board’s final vote was 7-6 in favor of postponing the ban for a year, with board members citing the pandemic and supporting small businesses as the cause for the delay in implementation. 

San Luis Obispo City Council Member Jan Marx said that she was disappointed in the outcome of the vote and hopes that the county could adopt the ordinance which works well in the city of San Luis Obispo and other California cities.

The original ordinance was approved in October of 2019 and would have gone into effect in April of 2020. 

“In March of 2020, Covid-19 was upon us and the board voted to delay the implementation of the polystyrene ordinance for one year to allow businesses that were suffering from the statewide ordered shut down some flexibility in delivery/take out product use and packaging.” Arroyo Grande City Council Member and IWMA board member Keith Storton said. “Many felt, including myself, that with the pandemic and economic impacts caused to our businesses that delaying the polystyrene ordinance was the most thoughtful choice to help them succeed.”


Storton said that one of the main functions of the IWMA is to have a unified education platform to inform the public about proper waste and recycling practices. IWMA has developed educational programs and ordinances that control how to properly dispose of paint, lightbulbs, batteries, syringes, electronic waste, organic waste and other recyclable and non-recyclable material. 

These programs are in constant evolution as the IWMA try to control the valuable landfill spaces to free them of unneeded material and make the best use of products in order to recycle and reuse.

Storton said that many local businesses have already recognized the environmental impacts of styrofoam and are already complying. Many are also adjusting their product shipping and delivery processes in order to be more environmentally sensitive. 

“We as citizens are becoming educated and more responsive to adjusting how we purchase and use materials that are simply bad for our planet,” Storton said.

Biology senior Dylan Stevens, president of Cal Poly’s Zero Waste Club, expressed his disappointment in the board’s decision to delay the ordinance.

Stevens attended the board meeting to present comments collected by members of the Zero Waste Club in support of the ban.

“The amount of comments from the public was astounding,” Stevens said. 

Stevens said that there were 65 pages of comments in support of the ban as well as 100 signatures that went along with the comments, but it “seemed to have little effect” on the board’s decision.

Stevens said styrofoam is “one of the most dangerous materials that we consume from, as well as one of the hardest materials to recycle.” He said he was surprised by the board’s decision to not go through with the ban.

“I’m still kind of shocked that this kind of decision was made, especially out of how much public comment and outreach there was,” Stevens said.

A similar ban on the environmentally harmful material has already been enacted across the state of California by local governments, according to a report from Freedonia Focus Reports. The report claims that California is the leading state in the effort to ban polystyrene styrofoam, with most polystyrene bans coming from California cities.


In the Feb. 10 meeting, before voting on the outcome of the ordinance the board reviewed the option of implementing the ban as planned, but there were financial challenges involved. 

Implementation of the ban has an estimated fiscal impact of $105,000 that would go toward one-on-one business and resident education that would include providing alternative product options, significant outreach that would be performed to properly implement the ban and potential enforcement challenges. according to the board. 

The board also reviewed the option of postponing the ordinance until Senate Bill 1383 is fully implemented, which is estimated to be in 2025. This option provides relief to small businesses struggling with financial impacts from the pandemic, and allows for staff to fully focus their attention onto meeting the requirements of the statewide mandate of 75% organics diversion goal by 2025.  

“Our practices of creating an ordinance, laws that people must abide by, have typically come down as a result of state mandates,” Storton said, “In a recent decision by the IWMA Board majority it was voted that our IWMA will concentrate on the creation of state mandated ordinances only, and not create more restrictive ordinances of our own.”

Storton, however, thinks the county should keep ban. 

“I voted to keep the ordinance in place,” Storton said. “There is overwhelming public support in the creation of a polystyrene ordinance by the fact we have received hundreds of emails and comments about this support and very limited opposition to its implementation.”

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