A new report by Honolulu Auditor Edwin Young concludes that a ban on foam or polystyrene food containers on Oahu would not reduce litter on the island, but would negatively affect some smaller businesses.
The report’s conclusions are drawing criticism from environmental groups as well as City Councilman Ron Menor, who recently introduced a new bill calling for such a ban.
“Minimizing litter to keep our natural environment beautiful and safe from harm is an important community objective,” Young said in a cover letter to Council Chairman Ernie Martin. “To be successful, the city must pursue comprehensive methods rather than a simplistic ban on a single kind of litter/trash that is unlikely to effectively reduce the amount of litter and its harm to the environment.”
While there’s general support among residents and businesses for a ban on
single-use foam food containers, even if it means an increase in food prices, a ban would negatively affect “certain classes of small food service businesses who are not prepared to transition to alternate food containers,” the letter said.
Restaurateurs have repeatedly raised strong objections to a ban, citing significantly higher prices for alternate containers that they would need to pass on to consumers. Despite those concerns, bans have been approved by the Maui and Hawaii County Councils.
The Maui County ban takes effect Tuesday; the
Hawaii County law kicks in on July 1.
The auditor’s report said all foam containers and other single-use food service products, “if properly disposed,” go into the city’s HPOWER waste-to-energy
facility in Kalaeloa. While some products are labeled as compostable or recyclable, all single-use food containers on Oahu end up at HPOWER because there is no composting or recycling of food containers taking place on the island.
“Most jurisdictions with bans in place use recycling and composting as primary waste management approaches to divert waste from the landfill,” the audit said. “If waste is not recycled or composted, it will be landfilled or littered.”
The report said previous litter studies determined that polystyrene food service containers “are a small component of Honolulu’s
litter. Since there is no reusable alternative food container, a ban simply will substitute other containers that will likely be littered.”
Stuart Coleman, Hawaiian Islands manager for the Surfrider Foundation, said he and other environmentalists locally and nationally were shocked at the report’s conclusion that a polystyrene ban wouldn’t
reduce litter. The conclusion is “inaccurate, somewhat nonsensical and based on misinformation,” he said.
Coleman said foam food container bans in cities including Miami Beach and San Francisco saw significant reductions of foam litter and particulates after bans were imposed.
The conclusion that there is little polystyrene was based on “informal” research, Coleman said. That “flies in the face of all the
research and data from beach cleanups here in
Hawaii and across the country,” he said.
Kahi Pacarro, co-founder of the group Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, also
took issue with the audit’s conclusions.
“The highlights of the
city auditors report do not reflect the findings of the
report itself and read consistent with the narrative of lobbyists of the oil and plastics industry,” Pacarro said. Industry officials will argue that littering is the key issue when in fact it is “a design failure.”
The highlights also “neglect the most obvious conclusion one would draw from reading the report”: that a majority of businesses and the public support a polystyrene ban, Pacarro said.
Menor last month introduced Council Bill 92, a foam food container ban that would take effect Jan. 1, 2020.
“Regarding the impact on small restaurants, I would support delayed implementation and a transition period to give small business adequate time to prepare for the new law,” Menor said. “It should also be noted that there are restaurants that have been able to successfully use non-polystyrene products, and this is an issue where the Council will have to weigh the benefits
of legislation with the costs.”
Young’s audit was triggered by Council Resolution 18-35. It was introduced by Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga, chairwoman of the Public Works, Infrastructure and Sustainability Committee, shortly after her committee deferred Bill 71 (2017), a measure introduced by Councilwoman Kymberly Pine, which called for an
Oahu-wide ban on foam containers, in November 2017.
An auditing team conducted islandwide beach and stream observations and interviewed 15 local food establishments, two
local manufacturing companies and food container distributors, as well as five environmental and nonprofit organizations, the report said.
Coastlines nor Surfrider
was among the nonprofits interviewed.
based OmniTrak Inc. surveyed local residents and businesses on the impacts of a ban.
Besides negatively affecting businesses, the report said, a wide segment of
Honolulu residents would be affected “largely in the form of price increases passed on to customers.”
The auditor’s report also looked into the city’s “ban” on single-use plastic bags, requiring businesses to charge 15 cents for retail bags beginning July 1. The report said the requirement “caused unanticipated problems.” The Department of Environmental Services received “many calls from small businesses and vendors voicing their questions and concerns.”
A complete ban on all
single-use plastic bags
10 mils or less in thickness is to begin Jan. 1, 2020.