Despite concerns, proposed ban on single-use plastics advances to full council

Despite concerns, proposed ban on single-use plastics advances to full council
A bill to ban single-use plastics for food has advanced in the Honolulu City Council. (Source: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A wide-ranging ban on single-use plastic food containers and utensils has advanced in the Honolulu City Council, despite concerns from the restaurant and food industry over alternative materials and their cost.

Bill 40 would ban the use of polystyrene containers for takeout food, similar to a ban on Maui and the Big Island.

Supporters said it would reduce plastic litter and increase the use of sustainable products.

“To be able to have peace of mind going into any fast-food restaurant, any supermarket, and be able to purchase an item that isn’t petroleum-based,” said Novelle Goodman, a student at Punahou School.

Goodman was among more than 60 people who signed up to testify before the council’s Public Works Committee Thursday.

The bill would also ban any single-use plastic, including in drink lids, straws, or any other food containers.

“Locally packaged raw meat, seafood, poultry, locally-bagged chips, sauces, poi, lau lau -- a really huge array of local products would be impacted by this,” said Alexis Chapman of the Hawaii Food Industry Association.

Some in the food industry told the committee that they’ve already looked for alternatives to package their products, but without success.

“Whether it’s our crackers or our cookies that come in flexible plastic packaging or plastic laminated bags -- the technology for that kind of packaging is still in process,” said Gary Yoshioka, the president of Diamond Bakery.

The city’s Office of Climate Change said that in the bill, businesses would be able to seek an exemption if they are unable to find a suitable non-petroleum substitute in their packaging.

“Is there a viable alternative? If there’s not, there’s an exemption for that,” said city chief resilience officer Josh Stanbro.

Some businesses said they’ve already been able to find some alternatives.

“This is actually our bowls that we use, using plant-based plastics,” said Matthew Hong of Banan, which sells banana-based soft-serve ice cream. “Originally when we first started, we had bowls that were petroleum-based. The quality comparison between the two is none."

But others in the restaurant industry said finding alternative materials will cost more.

“So we would have to pay more money and we pass that along to the consumer, so all takeout meals from restaurants will probably cost at least a dollar more,” said Tom Jones, chair of the Hawaii Restaurant Association and president of Gyotaku Japanese Restaurants.

If approved, the measure would take effect January 1, 2021. But councilman Joey Manahan, who introduced the bill, said he’ll make sure that businesses that can’t find viable alternatives could apply for exemptions before that date.

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