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San Luis Obispo city officials are preparing to ban foam products in the city 

San Luis Obispo leaders are on their way toward banning the sale and use of certain types of polystyrene products in the city.

With a specific focus on expanded polystyrene--most commonly associated with products such as the brand-name Styrofoam—a majority of SLO city councilmembers said during a Sept. 2 study session that they’d like to ban such products from being used in SLO restaurants or sold in SLO stores.

Several councilmembers additionally recommended that city staffers look at removing expanded polystyrene products from schools.

“It’s a terrible, poisonous, rotten product,” Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson said.

Councilman Dan Carpenter said he supported the idea of removing foam products, but believed most businesses have started doing so voluntarily, and any regulation should come from the county’s Integrated Waste Management Authority.

“I’m always hesitant to over-regulate,” Carpenter said.

Members of the group SLO Foam Free first publicly suggested in March that the City Council ban polystyrene products. City staffers ran with the suggestion based on direction from city councilmembers, and conducted surveys of other similar cities that have banned polystyrene products.

According to a city staff report, more than 80 California cities and counties have implemented some form of polystyrene regulation, ranging from bans of expanded polystyrene food and drink containers to bans of such containers as well as retail sales of certain types of polystyrene products. Based on a survey of 13 local businesses—those that responded after staffers contacted 89 businesses—about half have already stopped using foam food containers or never did to begin with, while the other half continue to use the containers because they’re less expensive than alternative materials in most cases.

City staffers cited a Caltrans study, which found that expanded polystyrene comprises about 15 percent of litter in storm drains. They referred to an additional study that determined polystyrene is the second most common form of beach debris.

Supporters of the ban dropped similar statistics and argued that expanded polystyrene products don’t biodegrade but simply break down into smaller pieces that are ingested by fish and other marine life.

“Those of us who have helped with beach and stream cleanup, we don’t want to pick up anymore Styrofoam,” SLO Foam Free Founder Janine Rands said.

City staffers will now begin putting together an ordinance to be voted on at a later date. It will require about 250 hours of public outreach and cost about $10,500, according to a city staff report.

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