Column: Bans aren’t the best solution to help Hawaii’s environment
There’s another debate at City Council about the kinds of food containers and utensils that Oahu restaurants are allowed to use.
Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser!
You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription.
Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story.
There’s another debate at City Council about the kinds of food containers and utensils that Oahu restaurants are allowed to use. Bill 40 would ban restaurants from using plastic utensils, straws and stirrers, foam food containers, as well as plastic bags for prepared foods, beverages and bakery items. We’d like to explain what is really at stake here.
The price of eating out will increase. Already, the cost of living in Honolulu is among the highest in the country and when factored with average salaries, locals earn the lowest wages in the U.S. The proposed policy to ban certain materials for use in food service will inevitably result in higher prices for citizens who are already struggling to make ends meet. That’s because alternatives to plastic and foam are very expensive and in short supply.
Bans on plastic food containers, bags and utensils would create big headaches for small, locally owned restaurants. Banning plastic means that they lose their lowest-cost options for serving takeout meals, as well as lose the type of containers and bags that are best for keeping meals warm and clean. What customers will see is more expensive to-go meals, in containers and bags that may leak. An example of this is paper straws, which seem like a great idea until one collapses after sitting in your drink for 20 minutes.
The cost of switching from plastic to compostable options is dismissed as “pennies,” but in this case the pennies really add up. This ban would double or triple the cost of items that smaller restaurants use for every customer, so they’d be paying extra every time they hand out a straw, fork, or bag.
We’ve talked to several local restaurant owners who don’t know how they would pass on these additional costs to their customers. We could see a real loss of our current diversity of small locally-owned food vendors.
We recognize the need to protect the environment and prevent marine debris. However, there are some legitimate questions about whether plastic bans will actually help the environment.
If one type of container is banned, another type of container will replace it, and none of them can be composted or recycled on Oahu. There will still be as many food containers being used, and they will all go to the H-POWER waste-to-energy facility, which means that all the extra cost and effort to switch containers will go to waste.
Also, it is not clear whether there are enough alternative products to supply all Oahu restaurants if a ban passes. The popularity of paper straws has already created months-long delays for orders to arrive.
Bans seem to be a simple solution to a major problem. However, banning plastic doesn’t reduce the overall amount of waste, and it results in much higher costs for local consumers.
There’s actually a much more effective solution to reducing marine debris, and that’s something we can all do: make sure all our trash, whatever it is made of, makes it safely into a trash can. Let’s be good neighbors and work out a win-win for our island.
Sheryl Matsuoka is executive director of the Hawaii Restaurant Association.