Hawaii state lawmakers are looking to advance a ban on the use of polystyrene foam containers from eateries starting in January 2020. Currently the proposed ban offers only two exceptions: if the county has an established polystyrene foam container recycling program, and if the Department of Health allows it.
Polystyrene foam—not to be confused with Styrofoam, a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company—can easily be identified by the #6 chasing arrows symbol stamped on these products.
Polystyrene foam is used most often for clamshell take-out containers, hot and cold beverage cups, and plates. These containers are ubiquitous in the islands, crucial for business owners to supply take out. Due to their structural integrity, foam foodservice products are ideally suited for the heavy soups, sauces, and rice-based dishes of traditional Hawaiian cuisine, offering consumers protection from leakage and burns.
The ban would have a serious impact on Hawaii’s small restaurant owners as they would be forced to trade in effective foam products for costly alternatives that could lead to higher prices for customers or forced closures. Tina Yamaki, President of Retail Merchants of Hawaii, also believes the ban is “going to drive the cost of business up” because “you’re going to pay more for your plate lunches.”
“A lot of Mom and Pops can’t afford it, the other [non-foam] containers are 2-3 times the cost of what they’re doing now,” said Yamaki.
Rather than an outright ban, more focus should be directed toward alternative methods of disposal for polystyrene. Polystyrene is recyclable and when it is disposed of properly, it can be incinerated for energy and reused for other products. After collection, polystyrene foam can be recycled into a multitude of products including: rulers, picture frames, and garden nursery trays. Also, since it is a thermoplastic, foam can be recycled over and over again.
Foam does more good than harm, and Hawaiian businesses shouldn’t have to suffer because alternative resolutions were not sought out before a complete ban.