Oahu would have the strictest single-use plastics ban in the state under a bill that is likely to pass a final vote of the Honolulu City Council on Wednesday.
Bill 40 was approved by the Council Public Safety and Welfare Committee two weeks ago by a 3-2 vote, and a solid majority of the full Council appears ready to pass the measure this week. Mayor Kirk Caldwell, meanwhile, said he would likely sign the bill.
>> See frequently asked questions about the planned single-use plastics ban
Food industry leaders — who oppose the measure but now appear resigned that the bill will pass — have asked for additional time to get rid of their existing stock of plastic containers, and that’s one change to the bill that Council members will consider before their final vote.
The version that was approved by the committee would prohibit food vendors from making available plastic forks, spoons, knives, straws or other utensils (defined as service ware) as well as plastic foam plates, cups and other containers (defined as food ware) starting Jan. 1, 2021. The ban would include other plastic food ware and apply to non-food-purveying businesses beginning Jan. 1, 2022.
Plastic bans went into effect in Maui and Hawaii counties during the last year, but they prohibit polystyrene foam containers only. The Honolulu bill would also apply to utensils and other service ware.
Maui County on Dec. 31 became the first jurisdiction in Hawaii to ban polystyrene foam containers, including plates, clamshells, bowls and cups. Violating the ordinance can cost food vendors up to $1,000 a day. Among the exempted items: packaging for raw or butchered meats, poultry, fish, eggs or other food that needs further preparation.
The Hawaii County ordinance that took effect June 1 prohibits restaurants and other food servers from using polystyrene foam plates, bowls, cups and other containers. Straws, cup lids, utensils and film wraps are not included, but the county “encourages the use of environmentally preferable alternatives.”
Councilman Tommy Waters, who chairs the Public Safety and Welfare Committee, this week offered up a new draft of the bill that would give food vendors an additional year, until January 2022, to stop dispensing foam or any other kind of plastic food ware. The prohibition on plastic service ware would still have a 2021 start date.
Jason Higa, president and CEO of Zippy’s Restaurants’ parent company, FCH Enterprises, said the complex issues involved with switching the hundreds of different container products in the local food industry to nonplastic alternatives will by itself require a lengthier implementation period.
Higa said he anticipates the need for “additional fixes that will have to take place.” He also pointed out that city Environmental Services Director Lori Kahikina, whose agency would be tasked with overseeing and enforcing a ban, has acknowledged it might take some time to collect the expertise necessary to administer the ban. That would likely include a rule-making period which would include time for public comment.
ABC Stores President and CEO Paul Kosasa told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser editorial board last week that the health of the company’s consumers is paramount and that food containers made from plant-based materials are not quite ready.
At this point “plastic is the only substance that gives biological protection from bacterias and those kinds of things. … We want to make sure that our consumers are eating good and safe foods and they’re on the shelf for a period of time,” Kosasa said. “The notion that we can just eliminate it and go with the (plant-based) bioplastics is false because the technology for bioplastics hasn’t come to the point where it can provide the adequate protection. And they’re close; I’m sure within the next five years they’ll come up with something.”
The plan to prohibit single-use plastic food containers and utensils has spurred heated and emotional arguments, with both bill proponents and opponents holding rallies on Honolulu Hale’s front lawn to bring attention to their perspectives.
Environmental groups pushing for the bill have been bolstered by the support of Caldwell’s Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency as well as a collection of impassioned college and high school students who have urged Council members to consider the long-term ramifications of plastics.
Le Jardin Academy senior Chloe Kaminskas told Council members that banning plastic food containers is a “no-brainer” for her. “We need to recognize the plastic is polluting the water we drink, the food we eat and even the air we breathe,” she said. Adults also need to take into account the effects plastics have on the ocean reefs and marine life, and the money and resources used for cleaning up the debris.
“We can change, and I, as a youth environmentalist, know that we can,” she said, pointing out the $20 reusable utensils kit that she uses every day.
Food industry leaders, however, have described the measure as a “Frankenstein bill” because they feel it was put together hastily and without much input from their side.
The leaders of usually apolitical food industry giants like Foodland, Zippy’s and ABC stores showed up at Honolulu Hale to protest loudly when language in the earlier proposal appeared to bar plastic for any food items sold on Oahu, including potato chips, cookies, kim chee and laulau.
Business leaders said what made the situation more galling was that such a prohibition could not be enforced on out-of-state businesses because federal interstate commerce laws prohibit a state or municipality from passing laws that impede interstate commerce.
Most of the industry’s concerns appeared to be alleviated in the draft passed Nov. 14 by the Public Safety and Welfare Committee, which specifically removed prepackaged foods from the bill. Waters and Councilman Joey Manahan, the bill’s author, said they never intended to apply the ban to so large a swath of products.
Caldwell said the latest version is “much improved. … (It) brought greater clarity for the industry to know what’s in and what’s out, and when things have to happen, which I think is important for everybody. And I think it’s equally important it’s getting plastic out of our waste stream.”
Food industry proponents have argued that they would prefer a single statewide ban for uniformity and note that a statewide Plastic Source Reduction Working Group recently began meeting.
But Caldwell said state lawmakers have tried and failed to come up with a statewide policy since he was in the Legislature more than a decade ago.
Nicole Chatterson, director of environmental group Zero Waste O‘ahu, said the bill represents “a manageable framework and timeline for businesses to replace select single-use plastic food containers with healthier alternatives.”
She added, “While change can be uncomfortable as we all adjust, that is not a reason to maintain the status quo. We know that plastic use drives the fossil fuel industry. We know that plastic is hurting our communities and aina. So why wouldn’t we take this reasonable step towards a healthier future?”