(Star-Advertiser) Council advances wide-ranging plastics ban

(Source: Honolulu Star Advertiser)

Council advances wide-ranging plastics ban

An Oahu-wide food establishment ban on single-use plastics — from takeout containers, utensils and straws to carry-out bags — won the second of three needed approvals from the Honolulu City Council Wednesday.

Bill 40 passed 9-0, with members Carol Fukunaga and Ann Kobayashi voting “yes, with reservations.” The proposal now goes back to the Council’s Public Safety and Welfare Committee for more tinkering.

Several food industry and business leaders urged Council members to give them more time to institute the change which, under the bill, calls for the ban to take effect Jan. 1.

But Councilman Joey Manahan, the bill’s author, said businesses have made repeated promises and been given ample time to convert to more environmentally friendly products and have not shown any signs of progress.

“We’ve been struggling with this issue for many, many years,” Manahan said. “We’ve been kicking the can … I think it’s time. We need to take a leadership position on this issue if we’re serious about (battling) the climate crisis here in Hawaii as an island state. I just find it hard in this day and age to be advocating for something that we know is harmful to our own bodies as well as the environment.”

Lauren Zirbel, executive director of the Hawaii Food Industry Association, said that rather than a ban, the Council should consider offering tax credits or some other kind of “offset” for those businesses that take steps to reduce their waste. Non-plastic products are often significantly more expensive and requiring them would adversely hit grocery stores and others who already operate at narrow profit margins.

Even when some of her group’s members seek to go non-plastic — as has been the case recently with eateries converting to paper straws — supply has been difficult to come by, Zirbel said. “We would ask that (the effective date) be moved back to 2022,” she said.

Rafael Bergstrom, executive director of Sustainable Coastlines Hawai‘i, disputed the claim that plastic products are cheaper. “When we’re just talking about a few cents it costs to move away from them, that is completely putting blinders on in regard to the actual costs.”

Plastics are fossil fuel products which ultimately require billions of dollars to be spent worldwide to clean up beaches and storm drains, Bergstrom said. That doesn’t take into consideration the countless hours of volunteer time that is being used to remove the debris, he said. “There’s no question that this is an extremely costly material.”

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