Hold that plate lunch! Bill would ban Styrofoam takeout containers

Lawmakers to consider statewide polystyrene ban
Published: Feb. 8, 2017 at 1:50 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 8, 2017 at 6:25 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Styrofoam plate lunch takeout containers are ubiquitous in the islands, and lawmakers are looking to change that.

A measure advanced by a Senate panel on Wednesday would ban the use of polystyrene foam containers from eateries, starting in January 2020.

The current version offers two exceptions -- if the county has an established polystyrene foam container recycling program or if the Department of Health allows it.

Supporters of the ban say polystyrene is dangerous to the environment and human health.

The containers don't break down but crumble into small pieces that become a false food source for fish and seabirds. Bill supporters also say the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services added polystyrene to its list of likely "human carcinogens" back in 2011.

"Styrofoam is one of the leading things we find on beaches. It's contaminating our environment. It's ubiquitous in what we find all over the place," said Rafael Bergstrom, administrator of the Surfrider Foundation's Oahu Chapter.

However, several organizations that oppose the polystyrene ban say there is a lot of misinformation being spread.

"Critics of expanded polystyrene foam containers continue to scare people that it's toxic and bad for people and the environment," said Dexter Yamada, president of K. Yamada Distributors.

Opponents say the ban would have a serious impact on Hawaii's small business owners and organizations that would be forced to trade in effective foam products for costly alternatives and that could lead to higher prices for customers or force closures.

They say polystyrene is recyclable. When disposed of properly, they say, it doesn't end up in the landfill but can be incinerated for energy.

This isn't the first time legislators have tackled this issue. Hawaii and Maui County lawmakers have advanced similar efforts, but no prohibitions have been approved.

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