Anti-plastic proposals face hearings today

  • In this Thursday, March 14, 2019 photo, Belinda Lau, manager of the Wiki Wiki Drive Inn takeout restaurant in Honolulu, sprinkles cheese on an order of spaghetti in a styrofoam container. Hawaii would be the first state in the U.S. to ban most plastics used at restaurants under legislation that aims to cut down on waste that pollutes the ocean. Dozens of cities across the country have banned plastic foam containers, but Hawaii would be the first to bar them statewide. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)

A bill that would prohibit certain plastic items in Hawaii remains alive and will face public hearings today.

Senate Bill 522, which would ban the sale, use or distribution of plastic utensils, beverage bottles, straws, polystyrene food containers and more successfully passed through its first committees in the state House after crossing over from the Senate.

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Another bill, Senate Bill 367, would prohibit just the sale of polystyrene food containers statewide, and has been similarly successful.

Despite controversy surrounding the bill, SB 522 has changed little since its introduction and retains much of its original language.

The most recent changes, made at the recommendation of the House committees on Energy and Environmental Protection and Economic Development and Business, merely replace the deadline for phasing out plastic items from 2022 with an as-yet unspecified date.

The polystyrene-only bill likewise had its deadline changed to an indefinite date in the future.

The bill would be one of the most wide-ranging plastic bans in the nation, exceeding the scope of states such as California, which bans restaurants from automatically providing plastic straws; although, some cities banned some single-use plastic items.

The proposal inspired impassioned testimony during a March 14 hearing. While the majority of testifiers supported the bill, there was significant resistance as well, largely from restaurant owners who feared the prohibition of plastic items would make it more expensive for them to operate.

“I try not to pass on too much of my business expense to customers because everything is so competitive and I will lose business if my food prices are raised too much,” wrote Honolulu restaurateur James Kim, who added that compostable food containers are either too expensive or deteriorate too quickly to be useful.

The Hawaii Food Industry Association, which represents more than 200 businesses, supports the polystyrene ban, but currently still opposes the broader plastic ban.

“At the current time the quantity of alternative packaging available is not enough to cover the demand set in this bill,” wrote Lauren Zirbel, executive director of the Food Industry Association.

However, the majority of testimony was in support of the bills, with many believing the bans will make less of a negative impact than some fear.

“A similar bill banning single-use plastic bags was ruffling feathers around the Big Island. Years later, people hardly notice the missing bags,” wrote Kona resident Jeff Milisen. “Instead, I notice how comparatively dirty other places look when I travel, where plastic bags litter highways and natural places.”

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Both bills will appear today before the House Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce.

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

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