Oahu will ban all single-use plastic plates, bowls, cups and service ware on Oahu by 2022 under a bill approved 7-2 by the Honolulu City Council Wednesday.
The bill, which is expected to be signed by Mayor Kirk Caldwell, would be the most restrictive anti-plastic bill in the state and likely be among the toughest in the United States when fully implemented.
While Hawaii and Maui counties recently enacted laws prohibiting the use of polystyrene foam containers in takeout foods, the Honolulu bill goes much further and would be the first to include all plastic containers, and include forks, spoons, knives, straws and other “service ware.”
The bill’s passage came despite lingering concerns by restaurants and other food service businesses who said the measure was too vague and confusing, and left much to interpretation.
The proposal was spurred, however, by environmental groups and bolstered by the support of climate change-conscious high school and college students who turned out in growing numbers as the bill progressed through preliminary Council votes.
The bill was hotly debated and both opponents and supporters held large rallies on the Honolulu Hale lawn to voice their views.
The Council received an astonishing 2,183 pages of testimony on Bill 40 through Tuesday, according to City Clerk Glen Takahashi. That didn’t include the roughly 500-page stacks of paper, comprised of the testimony collected Wednesday morning that sat on each Council member’s desks during deliberations.
More than 50 people testified personally Wednesday. Most supported the bill, and a good number of the supporters were students.
Councilman Joey Manahan, who authored the bill, said the bill appeared to gather momentum as it moved through the approval process. “This bill is not really ‘mine’ anymore,” he said. “Really and truly, it is everybody’s bill. Because we are talking about the health and well-being of our oceans and our planet, our island Earth.”
Council Public Safety and Welfare Chairman Tommy Waters, who worked on the final language of the bill, praised the throngs of young people who testified in support of the bill and urged Council members to look at the long-term view.
Council members Carol Fukunaga and Ann Kobayashi voted “no.” Fukunaga said the vast amount of last-minute changes to the bill created a situation where stakeholders should have had more time to consider them.
The bill contains numerous blanket exemptions, including handleless plastic bags for loose items such as bakery goods, coffee and produce; and plastic used for packaging of raw meats and poultry, seafood and unprepared produce; and prepackaged food, shelf-stable food and catered food.
The plan also allows for exemptions to be granted on a case-by-case basis under three different scenarios: situations where there are “no reasonable alternatives available” to a food vendor; situations where compliance would cause a significant hardship; and situations where an “industry exemption” may be warranted due to possible negative impacts to the entire food service industry.
And under changes to the bill made on the Council floor Wednesday in response to industry concerns, “non-plastic cups that contain a polyethylene or plastic coating” as well plastics food service items sold by businesses selling those items to food industry companies were granted blanket exemptions.
The dizzying array of changes was a key argument made by bill opponents hoping to stop it from passing Wednesday. They also are worried about the subjective nature of the exemption process.
Lauren Zirbel, a representative for the Hawaii Food Industry Association, said “the text of the measure still has a number of areas that could benefit from clarification.” The definitions of “disposable items” and “prepared foods” remained vague or inconsistent with language commonly used in industry standards, he said.
Jimmy Chan, founder and general manager of the Hawaiian Chip Company, said while he understood that prepackaged chips made in advance of a sale are OK under the bill, he’s unclear if that would apply to spot orders. If a customer showed up and wanted more chips than preordered, “can I just go ahead and make two more bags?”
Chan and others in the food service industry voiced concerns about the cost and availability of the products that would be acceptable
under the ban.
Ari Patz of Sustainable
Island Products, however, showed Council members more than a dozen different containers, cups and utensils that his company sells. “The products work, they are available and they are affordable,” he said.
Dyson Chee, a 17-year-old high school student, said he’s skeptical of the argument made by food industry representatives that the bill could lead to the closure of businesses and noted that there are many examples of local restaurants that have gone plastics-free on their own. “It’s possible to be a business … and support the planet at the same time,” he said.
After Caldwell signs the bill, the Department of Environmental Services would be tasked with overseeing and enforcing the new ordinance. The agency would need to go through a public rule-making process to determine, among other things, how exemptions would be granted.
The bill’s effective date is Jan. 1, 2021, when plastic service ware would be banned while other types of service ware would be distributed only upon request. The bulk of the prohibitions, however, will take place on Jan. 1, 2022. That would include polystyrene and other plastic plates, bowls and other foodware, as well as the general sale of plastic products to food industry companies, or anyone, unless they have exemptions.