In six months, businesses in San Luis Obispo County will be banned from distributing styrofoam products, including to-go containers and styrofoam cups.

The Integrated Waste Management Authority (IWMA) Board of Directors voted to ban the use of polystyrene, otherwise known as styrofoam, Oct 9. Enforcement of the ban begins in April.

The cities of San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach and Morro Bay already banned businesses from using styrofoam products. This ordinance simply expands the ban so it applies to the rest of San Luis Obispo County, according to IWMA Program Director Patti Toews. 

Styrofoam products include plates, cups, egg cartons, ice chests and more, according to the IWMA ordinance.

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Video by Cydney Melton

The ordinance advises businesses to replace styrofoam with biodegradable, recyclable or reusable products.

“I think that it’s important to not bring anything into our county that can’t either be recycled, reused, or in the case of food waste, rejuvenated into compost and back into our soil,” Toews said. 

When recycling trucks collect styrofoam, they crush it into small pieces that often blow out of the truck because they are so light. This means that most of the styrofoam collected does not make it to the recycling facility, according to Toews. 

“I pick up litter once a week – I have a section of highway that I pick up, and every week I pick up multiple pieces of styrofoam,” Toews said. “It’s really frustrating.”

Not only is styrofoam difficult to recycle, but it releases toxic chemicals like benzene and styrene into the environment, according to Toews. 

However, not everyone was in favor of the ban. At the board meeting, San Luis Obispo County Supervisor John Peschong said the ban could be financially difficult on small businesses

Atascadero restaurant La Mexicana uses styrofoam to-go boxes, and will soon need to replace them with reusable or recyclable containers, according to restaurant manager Marina Morsin.

“As a small business we don’t have a very large profit margin as it is,” Morsin said. 

In order to pay for the new to-go boxes, La Mexicana will have to raise the price of their food, so the ban will affect consumers too, according to Morsin.

County Supervisor Bruce Gibson supported the ban anyway. 

“Where [styrofoam has] been banned previously, they’ve successfully transitioned over to these other materials, so I don’t see it as a major economic impact,” Gibson said. “I do understand that there will be a period of transition that people will have to get used to, but the IWMA works cooperatively with businesses to try and make that as easy as possible.”

If the ban will cause financial hardship for a vendor, they can apply to the IWMA for a one year extension, according to the ordinance.

“By banning it in [San Luis Obispo County], it really levels the playing field for businesses,” Toews said.

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