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Businesses want Oahu’s plastic utensils ban delayed

With only weeks to go before the first phase of Oahu’s wide-ranging disposable-foodware ordinance is set to take effect Jan. 1, restaurant owners and food industry leaders are renewing their call for more time to comply.

The chairman of the City Council Economic Assistance and Revitalization Committee said he’s willing to consider giving a break to the hard-hit businesses.

Meanwhile, an official with the agency responsible for implementing and enforcing Ordinance 19-30 said there will be an educational period, which would give additional time for businesses and the industry to seek exemptions or come into compliance.

The new law — approved by the City Council and signed by Mayor Kirk Caldwell in December — states that starting Jan. 1, disposable plastic serviceware including forks, knives, spoons and straws are banned while other types of serviceware will be distributed only upon request. A ban on foam or other plastic plates, bowls and other foodware takes effect Jan. 1, 2022.

Victor Lim, a McDonald’s of Hawaii franchisee and legislative liaison of the Hawaii Restaurant Association, said the financial hits taken by restaurateurs due to the coronavirus pandemic since it began earlier this year have already caused scores of eateries to shut down permanently. That makes a delay in the effective date of the ordinance even more imperative, he said.

“The industry is hurting big time,” Lim said.

Cost and the supply chain issues for the allowed utensils have grown even more difficult during the pandemic, while the existing stock of soon-to-be-illegal products may be larger since many of the eateries have been forced to shut down or curtail their services due to the pandemic, Lim said.

The new law includes language allowing for businesses, and even an entire industry, to petition for an exemption based on significant economic hardship or the lack of available product to comply. But the city has not yet established rules laying down the specifics for implementation, making it likely that no exemptions can be granted before Jan. 1, Lim said, and leaving the businesses vulnerable for fines of up to $1,000 if they aren’t in compliance.

“They really are not even entertaining any kind of requests for industry exemptions or anything like that,” Lim said. “So we’re asking for a grace period.”

Members of the restaurant association as well as the Hawaii Food Industry Association want the implementation date to be pushed back three months until March 31.

The Council Economic Assistance and Revitalization Committee, at its meeting Wednesday, is scheduled to take up Resolution 20-309. The resolution, introduced by Council Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi, does not refer to the foodware ordinance in particular, but calls on the Caldwell administration to “suspend certain restrictions imposed by the city on businesses to ensure public health and safety during the COVID- 19 pandemic.”

Lim said he believes the resolution could have an impact on the implementation timeline.

Councilman Tommy Waters, who chairs the Economic Assistance and Revitalization Committee, said he’s willing to consider finding a way for affected businesses to have more time to comply.

Waters said while some have talked about the idea of repealing the ordinance altogether, that’s not something he’d support. “It was tough enough to get passed. I’d rather not revisit that.”

He would, however, favor a proposal to “give the industry an exemption as long as they need it,” Waters said. “I’m sympathetic. We put off the effective date to give businesses the opportunity to use the stock that they already have. But heck, if their business wasn’t open, they didn’t have that opportunity, so that’s a perfect example of why they need an industrywide exemption, and I would support that.”

On the implementation side, Environmental Serv­ices has scheduled a public hearing on the proposed new rules for noon Nov. 30. An originally scheduled date for last month was canceled.

Henry Gabriel, Recycling Program Branch chief, said the ordinance calls for the city to begin accepting requests for exemptions 30 days prior to implementation, but it is clear that no decision on any of the requests can be made until after the rule takes effect Jan. 1.

Gabriel said Oahu restaurants and other businesses won’t need to worry about being fined right away for noncompliance. Typically, Environmental Services provides a three- to four-month education campaign period before issuing fines based on new ordinances.

“We send out a mailer, and we go out on inspections probably around the March-April time frame,” Gabriel said. “So even though there is an effective date come Jan. 1, we want a lot of the businesses to comply, but our procedure will be to educate for the first month or two and then do the inspections.”

Gabriel is participating in a implementation webinar at 10:30 a.m. today on the new ordinance that’s being sponsored by several environmental nonprofit groups that supported the new law. To register, go to fb.me/e/ cX7TuF73e.

For more about Honolulu’s Disposable Food Ware Ordinance, go to Environmental Services’ website at bit.ly/ 35Bb93bHNLDFWOrd.

Correction: A ban on foam or other plastic plates, bowls and other foodware takes effect Jan. 1, 2022. An earlier version of this story incorrectly said those provisions of the disposable foodware ordinance would take effect in 2021.
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