Bottles, utensils and bags: Lawmakers are coming for your single-use plastics

Bottles, utensils and bags: Lawmakers are coming for your single-use plastics
(Image: Hawaii News Now) (Source: HNN File)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An ambitious measure that would institute a broad ban on single-use plastics in Hawaii ― including plastic bottles, utensils and straws ― is gaining traction at the state Legislature despite widespread concern among businesses.

Senate Bill 522 sailed through the Senate and passed two key House committees Thursday.

It’s also been referred to two additional committees, though no new hearings have been scheduled.

The measure would put Hawaii at the forefront of a nationwide push to reduce the use of single-use plastics, which environmentalists say have created a pollution crisis in the world’s oceans.

Lawmakers are proposing to ban all sorts of single-use plastics under the measure, from food packaging to plastic bags and utensils to polystyrene foam containers.

The bill would go into effect in phases.

By 2021, state and county government agencies would be banned by buying, using or selling single-use plastic items.

The following year, all food establishments would be subject to the ban.

And by 2023, the ban would institute an outright ban on the use or distribution of plastic bags.

All Hawaii counties already have plastic bag bans, while Maui and Hawaii counties also have bans on polystyrene food containers.

Opponents of the proposal ― largely from the food industry ― say the measure goes too far, too quickly.

“These types of bans only hurt the little guys, the mom and pop restaurants,” said Christina Adolpho, general manager of Waiahole Poi Factory, in testimony submitted to lawmakers.

“I work seven days a week, sometimes as long as 12 hours a day. Think about that, we are not a huge restaurant with a lot of staff. Our profit margins are thin. We use styrofoam containers for a few reasons, but cost efficiency is a big one.”

Several government agencies have also raised concerns about portions of the measure, including the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, which said the law should allow for the use of single-use plastics in emergency situations.

Supporters of the measure, meanwhile, say it recognizes the harmful impacts of plastics on Hawaii’s ocean ecosystems.

“Plastics in the waste stream pose threats to human and environmental health as their decomposition and incineration release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas with the largest contribution to global climate change,” said Joshua Stanbro, executive director of the city’s Office of Climate Change, in written testimony.

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