Editorial: Plastic straw bill shows progress
There’s plenty of evidence that throwaway plastics are getting into the ocean, causing harm to marine life and other environmental damage while marring the state’s picturesque shorelines.
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There’s plenty of evidence that throwaway plastics are getting into the ocean, causing harm to marine life and other environmental damage while marring the state’s picturesque shorelines. So, Hawaii seems like a logical target for laws that aim to slow the flow of plastics trash and encourage eco-friendly habits among consumers.
In recent years, Hawaii put in place the nation’s first statewide ban on plastic bags at store checkout counters. Hawaii County led the way in 2013, followed by the other counties in subsequent years. A ban on polystyrene foam food containers took effect in Maui County in December, and Hawaii County is following suit this year.
Now advancing at the state Capitol is House Bill 762, which bars sit-down restaurants from automatically giving out single-use plastic straws. It’s another sensible move to reduce the onslaught of plastics pollution. An estimated 500 million plastic straws are thrown out daily in the U.S.; and they often rank among the top 10 items picked up at beach cleanups.
This year, California became the first state to pass such a ban. Restaurants that fail to comply get two warnings before being fined up to $300 per year. The new law applies only to full-service restaurants. HB 762, which is tailored for the same type of business — not fast-food eateries or beverage retailers — sets fines at $25 a day, up to $300 per year.
Like California, the Hawaii law would prohibit providing a plastic straw unless requested. That seems to be a reasonable way to address concerns expressed by disability advocates opposed to outright bans, noting that plastic alternatives such as paper straws and reusable straws may not work as well for disabled people.
Various cities, including San Francisco and Seattle, now have tougher laws in place that impose outright bans. Last year, Hawaii lawmakers rejected a bill to make the selling and distributing plastic straws here illegal. That measure flat-lined as representatives of the food service community squared off against environmentalists on the issue.
The food-service reps rightly asserted that we all need to get better at reducing waste, and suggested a stepped-up public education campaign. Less compelling was an assertion that because a straw ban would not make a big dent in solving the overall litter problem, businesses should not be saddled with extra costs tied to replacement products.
As similar debates have played out amid pushes to phase out plastic bags and foam food containers, what’s becoming increasingly clear is that safeguarding the state’s precious natural resources holds weight over casual consumer convenience.
It’s encouraging then that HB 762, which is perceived as a compromise on the straw issue, has the support of industry groups, including the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, the Hawaii Restaurant Association and KYD Inc., a Honolulu-based manufacturer and distributor of packaging products.
A 2017 research paper for the journal Science Advances estimated that since the 1960s when consumer plastics started being widely used, some 6,300 million metric tons of plastic waste has been generated worldwide. Only 9 percent of that has been recycled, 12 percent incinerated, and the rest dumped in landfills or directly into the environment.
Situated in soupy waters between Hawaii and California is the the world’s largest accumulation of trash. The “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” bounded by the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, encompasses more than 600,000 square miles.
Straws are an easy target for environmental change because, for the most part, they’re nonessential. State lawmakers should support HB 762 as it signals that making even a small dent in reducing plastics pollution is a worthy effort.