The City Council of Honolulu, Hawaii is currently reviewing a bill that would change the type of single-use foodservice items available throughout the city. Recent legislation introduced by councilmember Stanley Chang seeks to disallow restaurants, eateries and vendors from serving food and beverage items in single-use containers made of polystyrene foam. Although the legislation has been said to be introduced as a way to “protect the public and environment,” many small businesses are questioning exactly how banning one material will accomplish that. Polystyrene foam is often mistakenly referred to as Styrofoam®, which is a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company. Consumers generally prefer foam products for single-use food storage because of their ability to keep hot liquids warm but still safe to hold.
Many local business owners are concerned about the proposed foam ban because they understand that this could ultimately affect their bottom line. According to Eddie Flores Jr., founder of L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, Councilman Chang’s bill is an “unnecessary intrusion that will create extra burdens on mom and pop eateries trying to squeeze out a living.” If the ban were to take effect, Flores would be forced to pay nearly three times the rate that he is currently paying for his polystyrene foam take-away food containers.
Not only will the cost of the proposed ban become a burden on small businesses, but the quality of alternative products will be an issue for patrons. Flores notes that some of his more hearty dishes are served with gravy which most food containers, such as paper-based products, do not hold well and allow the sauce to seep through the material. Products derived from polystyrene foam not only prevent this from occurring, but also allow consumers to keep hot and/or cold foods at their desired temperatures.
Furthermore, foam offers environmental advantages over alternative products. A local, family-run business manufactures foam foodservice products in Honolulu. When compared to alternative products that must be imported, these local foam-based items have a much smaller carbon footprint. The Honolulu Program of Waste Energy Recovery (H-POWER) converts garbage into electricity, consuming 2,160 tons of garbage per day and reducing Hawaii’s landfill volume by 90 percent. H-POWER converts trash, including foam, into electricity for roughly 50,000 households. So rather than contribute to landfills, this foam refuse helps power Oahu.
For these three reasons – cost, performance, and environment – Honolulu restaurant owners oppose the proposed foam ban.