Kim to sign foam ban

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Mayor Harry Kim said Wednesday he plans to sign a foam food container ban that passed the County Council by a 7-2 vote earlier in the day.

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Mayor Harry Kim said Wednesday he plans to sign a foam food container ban that passed the County Council by a 7-2 vote earlier in the day.

The ban goes into effect July 1, 2019, with an educational program beginning that January. The passage of Bill 13, and the mayor’s promise to sign it, puts Hawaii County in line to be the second county in the state to ban the ubiquitous plate lunch containers.

The Maui County Council passed a bill that was signed in June by Mayor Alan Arakawa that goes into effect Dec. 31, 2018.

The Big Island council’s vote was almost assured, following the same vote on first reading earlier this month. Still, a crowd of testifiers was on hand to make sure support for the bill stayed strong. No one testified against the bill.

The council’s 7-2 vote is pretty much veto-proof: It takes just six votes to override the mayor’s veto.

But Kim said he doesn’t mind signing the bill because council members worked with the administration to make the measure more palatable before moving it forward.

In particular, he said, he appreciates the lengthy implementation period that will allow food vendors to deplete their inventory and also allow for an educational period.

Kim said in his prior term he vetoed a plastic grocery bag ban because it didn’t give merchants time to use their existing stock. That ban ultimately was signed in 2012 by former Mayor Billy Kenoi.

“Yes, I will sign this bill,” Kim said. “I am grateful for the council giving us some lead time. … They did a great job packing it into a tight bill.”

Still, Kim added, echoing concerns expressed by some opponents, much of the problem with foam containers comes from people not disposing of them properly. It’s a litter problem, he said.

Environmental Management Director Bill Kucharski, who worked closely with the council on the bill, said his department will begin working on rules to implement the ordinance. He said there’s a yet unknown cost that will have to be factored into the department’s budget.

Supporters say the ban is needed to protect marine wildlife. Polystyrene, popularly called “Styrofoam,” breaks down into minute pieces of plastic that enter the ocean and lodge in the guts of fish and birds that ingest them, they said. The lightweight plate lunch containers, soup bowls and cups fly easily out of trash cans and litter the environment, they added.

“You put it in the trash can and the trash can is overflowing, and then it’s out there harming the environment,” said bill sponsor Eileen O’Hara, who represents parts of Puna.

Opponents said alternative plates, clamshells and cups cost more, meaning higher takeout food costs for consumers. The alternatives might not keep food as hot and are more likely to leak, they said.

Hilo’s two council members, Aaron Chung and Sue Lee Loy, were the only two no votes. They’ve said the bill unfairly singles out one source of polystyrene while allowing other polystyrene containers, such as egg cartons, coolers and the like, to remain on the market.

Items shipped into the state are covered by interstate commerce laws and thus are not easy to regulate. Food packaged outside the county and packaging for raw meat, fish and eggs that have not been further processed are exempt from the ban.

Fines range from $10 to $600 per violation, depending on whether the violation is part of a special event and the size of the special event. A written warning will first be issued. Each sale or transfer of food in a polystyrene container counts as a single violation.

The bill as written also exempts coolers, county facility users and food vendors with county approval and providers of supplies during county emergencies declared by the mayor.

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In situations where compliance with the ordinance would result in undue hardship, the Environmental Management director may exempt a food vendor or county facility user from the requirements for a period not to exceed 180 days, under the bill.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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