To reduce the negative environmental impact of polystyrene, the City of San Luis Obispo issued an ordinance in June 2015 which bans the use of disposable food containers made from expanded polystyrene. But with a new, county-wide ordinance under consideration on September 11, we figured it was time for a crash course on that light, convenient material we all know and use.

Leading the conversation about a potential ban is the Integrated Waste Management Authority, the organization that manages waste and recycling for SLO County. IWMA is a government entity of elected officials from across San Luis Obispo County. The county-wide ordinance currently proposed would use the city’s as a baseline, but would also ban EPS products like meat trays, egg cartons and marine devices as well as all non-expanded polystyrene items (anything with the number 6 inside the recycling symbol).

Typically when we call something “Styrofoam,” what we really mean is “expanded polystyrene”— or EPS. Though this sounds like scientific jargon, it is actually the stuff that those single-use white foam cups and to-go boxes are made from. “Styrofoam” is a trademarked brand of the stuff typically used for construction purposes. Many of us use EPS products on a daily basis, whether for a cup of morning coffee or to save those delicious dinner leftovers for later.

As practical as these products may seem, they pose threats to the environment if they are not processed properly. EPS cups and to-go boxes often end up in a landfill if recycling centers do not have the technology to process them. Currently, San Luis Obispo’s recycling center simply does not have the technological capability to process EPS⁠— or any form of polystyrene— at its facility. Another issue with these plastics is that they break up very easily, allowing them to make their way into the environment where they can leach toxic chemicals.

While the Chamber supports the IWMA enacting a county-wide version of the City of SLO’s ordinance regarding polystyrene, we don’t believe that the addition of all polystyrene containers, meat trays, egg cartons and marine devices should be added.

“Allowing for San Luis Obispo’s environmentally sustainable business practices to be implemented across the county is a key move toward environmental stewardship that levels the playing field for all businesses in our communities,” says SLO Chamber CEO Jim Dantona. “The long run benefits of reducing our trash production include increased land for open space, housing and economic development. It’s a win-win.”

Recycling requirements can look different depending on location. What we are able to recycle here in SLO County will differ from the rules in, say, Los Angeles. Thus, the Chamber also supports robust education for businesses, residents and visitors on how to recycle properly in SLO County.

The Chamber advocates to protect the area’s air and water quality, scenic beauty and character. It is imperative that we advocate for the protection of and access to San Luis Obispo’s signature landscapes, like our sunny beaches and public parks.

Supporting local business and championing environmentally friendly practices are not mutually exclusive priorities. In fact, we strongly believe that these two goals depend upon one another. Adopting the City’s polystyrene ordinance on a county-wide level will brighten our collective future, a future that depends on furthering sustainable solutions that support healthy growth in our community.


Photo provided by, Phyllis Wong.