The Hawaii County Council decided on Tuesday, February 16, 2016, to send a proposed polystyrene foam ban to the county’s Environmental Management Commission for its review and comments before finalizing a vote. This follows a preliminary discussion that resulted in a 4-4 tie for the ban in the County Council. Supporters of the foam ban sought to ban all forms of polystyrene foam foodservice items, while opponents of the ban felt the council should “work with businesses rather than ban the containers outright.”
The postponing of the vote to implement a county-wide ban gives county leaders more time to understand the effect that a ban of this type would have on county residents. Many restaurants, eateries, and street vendors use polystyrene containers to serve customers because they are more affordable than other alternatives and are more effective when it comes to keeping food hot and maintaining their shape under heat and moisture.
“Supermarkets and take-out restaurants are dependent on polystyrene for plate lunches and polystyrene meat trays,” said Derek Kurisu, executive vice president of KTA Super Stores, and chairman of Hawaii Food Industry, a statewide group. “We tried [alternative products] in our deli but it doesn’t work like polystyrene.”
Foam also drives the local economy, as polystyrene is manufactured in-state, which puts people to work and avoids the expensive cost of shipping products to the Hawaiian Islands. Dexter Yamada, owner of Hawaii Foam Products LLC, which employs about 100 people in Honolulu, believes that a ban on polystyrene has no positive effect on the environment. “This bill will only change the type of litter,” argues Yamada. The county should focus its efforts on recycling education for its citizens, rather than banning a product that benefits the local economy.
Supporters of the ban—aside from pointing out environmental effects of polystyrene—often cite health concerns linked to foam. However, polystyrene is an FDA-approved material that has been deemed safe for use in foodservice products for more than 50 years. Polystyrene is not made with carcinogens, and it has never been linked to cancer or other health problems. Furthermore, it is not made with ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, as some have speculated.
The Environmental Management Commission will consider these indisputable facts about foam when they revisit the vote to ban polystyrene foam in Hawaii County.