Bill would ban multiple plastics

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Photo illustration Senate Bill 522 would ban the sale, use or distribution of plastic beverage bottles, utensils, stirring sticks, straws and polystyrene foam containers.

A bill passing through the state legislature may spell the end for plastic bottles, styrofoam food containers and more across the state.

Senate Bill 522 sets a lofty goal to ban the sale, use or distribution of plastic beverage bottles, utensils, stirring sticks, straws and polystyrene foam containers anywhere in the state by 2023.

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If passed, the bill’s ban would be implemented in stages: state and county agencies would be prohibited from using the items after July 1, 2021. One year later, the items would be prohibited in restaurants, hotels, bars and other food vendors. And by July 1, 2023, the products would be prohibited for all businesses and individuals.

The bill would also establish a working group to develop effective ways to eliminate single-use plastic packaging from the state’s waste stream, encourage reuse and composting plastics in the state’s food industry and phase out single use plastic beverage containers.

Senator Russell Ruderman, who co-introduced the bill, said adopting the bans would allow Hawaii to join other communities that have already taken the step to cut excessive plastic out of their lives.

“We’ve already banned plastic bags and that turned out to be no big deal,” Ruderman said. “There are whole countries that don’t use plastic utensils,” he added, referring to countries like France and Taiwan, whose plastic bans have not yet gone into full effect.

Ruderman said adding plastic utensils to the list of banned products sets SB 522 beyond previous bills that have flirted with plastic bans, while the addition of the working group will serve as a fallback option in case the bill gets “watered down.”

While the bill has passed through all four Senate committees with no senator voting against it — although Big Island senators Lorraine Inouye and Kai Kahele, as well as two other senators, were excused from voting at a Tuesday meeting of the Senate Ways and Means committee — the proposal is controversial. A number of businesses and trade organizations testified against the bill at committee hearings, with the Hawaii Food Retailers Association — which represents 200 member companies — warning that it would “raise prices on essential items for Hawaii consumers and limit Hawaii residents’ access to a range of products.”

Meanwhile, several Honolulu businesses lamented that the ban would raise their own costs of doing business.

The bill attracted significant support, as well, primarily from individuals and environmental support organizations. “Single-use plastics pollute our lands and freshwater bodies, clog up drainage systems, harm wildlife and ultimately end up in our ocean waters settling on our reefs and, in some places, creating large plastic island gyres,” wrote Lori Mallini, a volunteer with the Sierra Club of Hawaii.

Sarah Sloick, manager at Hilo restaurant Surf Break Cafe, said she suspects that replacing plastic utensils and other products with biodegradable alternatives would be relatively simple.

“I’m sure prices would go up a bit, but if it happened, I think it would be on our supplier to change if they wanted to stay our supplier,” Sloick said.

Sloick went on to say that Surf Break Cafe already does not offer any styrofoam products to customers for environmental reasons.

Ruderman, himself the president of supermarket chain Island Naturals, said he feels that moving society away from plastic dependency outweighs business concerns, but added that if enough places enforce similar plastic bans, then companies will adapt their own practices and switch to more sustainable packaging materials.

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“I’m willing to be part of that change as both a Hawaii resident and a businessman,” Ruderman said.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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