On May 16, 2016, the Hawaii County Council advanced Bill 140, banning polystyrene takeout containers on the Big Island starting July 1, 2018. The Environmental Management Committee voted 5-4 to forward the bill to the full Council for its next vote on June 3 before going to the mayor for either a signature or a veto.
Polystyrene foam is better known as foam, EPS, or plastic #6, but is often misidentified as Styrofoam. Where polystyrene foam is used primarily for food packaging products like coffee cups and clamshell takeout containers, Styrofoam is a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company that is used for building insulation.
Those who argued in favor of the polystyrene ban brought up health concerns, but others disputed these concerns. According to experts, the health issues associated with polystyrene foam are negligible.
“The biggest danger is they overheat it and burn their mouth on the food,” said George Cruzan, an expert appearing before the council.
The bill’s proponents also argued that there are environmental concerns associated with polystyrene, but those concerns should be attributed to litterers, not the small locally-owned restaurants that use polystyrene foam products.
“Nobody talks about the littering problem,” said Hilo Councilman Dennis “Fresh” Onishi. “We’re penalizing our food vendors because of people like us.”
The cost of banning foam
Councilman Aaron Chung referred to a long list of well-known local restaurants with significant concerns about the bill due to the significant added cost of alternative containers.
“These are local guys trying to make a go, and they’re being overlooked,” said Chung.
The County wants to replace polystyrene foam containers with compostable food service ware, but the cost could be detrimental to some restaurant owners. It is not clear whether the compostable food containers would be actually be composted or landfilled.