SLO Foam Free (SLO FF) is a grassroots group of concerned citizens working to ban expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam or foam) in SLO County city by city. Their goal is to eliminate the sale and commercial use of “Expanded Polystyrene,” EPS foam at restaurants, food vendors and grocery stores. They urge all citizens to avoid buying styrofoam and to lobby their favorite restaurants to switch to recyclable, biodegradable or compostable products.
EPS cannot be recycled. It is a threat to public health and wildlife. On June 2, 2015, the SLO City Council voted unanimously to ban expanded polystyrene (aka Styrofoam). Pismo Beach City Council joined with SLO, Dec 15, 2015 followed by Arroyo Grande and Morro Bay Feb 9, 2016. SLO FF has worked on this campaign for two years and their goal is a county wide ban. Most cities gave 6 months grace period to comply, use up current stock and time to find alternative replacements. SLO actually granted a full year
How does Styrofoam harm our environment? Small pieces of foam from land trash blow into creeks/streams or storm drains. These foam containers get battered as they move through the storm drain system and small bits slip through filters into the ocean. Polystyrene foam is one of the most ubiquitous sources of litter collected during local creek/beach cleanups, along with cigarette butts. Foam coolers, plates, takeout containers, and other wares, are expanded polystyrene (EPS) made of non-renewable fossil fuels and synthetic chemical compounds.
Plastic foam is buoyant and breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces posing a danger to marine life and sea birds. It also poses a health risk to humans. Bits have been found in the bodies of fish and shellfish caught for human consumption. It does not biodegrade, but breaks up into tiny pieces and disperses throughout the environment. Remember packing peanuts and how they would stick to everything and float around? The same thing happens with all EPS products, which means that they are very hard to clean up.
Polystyrene ban ordinances are on the rise though. When SLO Foam Free began in January 2014, there were 70 cities with bans. Now, there are 99 California cities with EPS ordinances, and four cities are on the verge of approving a ban. Every city makes its own ordinance and interpretation.
SLO FF has presented their arguments to SLO County City Councils with four coming on board with a ban. Five city council approvals are needed for the issue to come before the SLO County Board of Supervisors to vote on county wide ban.
There is also a state law, proposed this year, the Ocean Pollution Reduction Act of 2017 which would ban stores and restaurants from using polystyrene containers for prepared food starting in 2020. It’s based on a polystyrene take-out ban enacted by Santa Monica in 2008. Let your representative know you support this bill.
The bill is working its way through the California legislative process, but likely to get hung up if the plastics industry starts lobbying. An economic argument can be made against the ban. Foam is inexpensive and alternatives could add to food vendors’ overhead. Santa Monica, with its own ban, was sensitive to this possibility and included a one-year hardship exemption for businesses that couldn’t afford to switch to a higher-cost alternatives. Apparently, though, it didn’t turn out to be a big burden because, according to Santa Monica officials, not one exemption was requested.
The Paso Robles City Council has discussed the foam issue at a city council meeting but, to date, the Atascadero City Council has not agendized the issue for discussion. Atascadero Mayor O’Malley is proud of his home/event center’s water conservation structures. Ask and he will give you a tour. I am hopeful he will extend this environmental awareness to the foam issue and see the advantages of this ban for our city. He and the Atascadero City Council need to hear from you on this issue--call or email.
Across the country, it is impressive how cities, including NYC, have made good on their promise to rid their landscape of environmentally unfriendly plastic foam containers. This is a huge endeavor for a large city! The NYC mayor’s office announced the citywide ban of expanded polystyrene will take effect in July, 2017.
Let’s take one more small step to keep our beautiful north county environment safe and clean.