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Polystyrene Ban to Begin Next Year

A Maui County ban on polystyrene foam containers, used by many restaurants for take-out food, will go into effect county-wide on Dec. 31, 2018. Passed by the Maui County Council last week, the ban aims to address environmental concerns posed by the non-biodegradable substance. The bill is now on the mayor’s desk awaiting his signature. Maui County will become the first county in Hawaii to pass a bill restricting the use and sale of polystyrene, joining many states and counties on the mainland that already have such bans.

“Due to its lightweight nature and ability to break down into smaller fragments that persist for decades, polystyrene has significant negative impacts on the environment, contributes to the potential death of marine animals and avian populations through ingestion…” the bill reads.

The bill’s final version passed by the council only covers polystyrene foam, the white take-out containers, lu`au plates and cups used for hot liquids. The ban does not include clear plastic containers or solid polystyrene.

However, many business owners are concerned about the economic impact of the ban, saying polystyrene alternatives are more costly — an expense that will be passed on to consumers.

Liette Corpus, owner of Molokai’s Sundown Deli, said while she agrees with the longterm goals of the bill, the alternatives she’s researched are approximately double the cost of polystyrene.

“They [customers] already have to pay through the teeth and we’re going to have to pass it on the consumer,” she said. “Alternatives aren’t affordable, they should have thought about alternatives before passing it.”

Corpus suggested that county could have worked with manufacturers to find viable alternatives before passing the bill.

“Help us find an alternative that isn’t priced out of our ballpark,” she said. “We’re already priced out.”

Molokai Councilmember Stacy Helm Crivello said the ban isn’t something new, and was originally introduced by former councilmember Mike Victorino, and the process has involved lengthy deliberations and research.

She said her understanding is that alternatives “aren’t that much more” in price. But Crivello emphasized the bill “is a first step,” adding it’s about raising awareness and bringing education.

“The bottom line is littering.,” she said. “It’s a start and perhaps we can have a litter control education again. I think we gotta be more cognizant working with the administration to recycle better.”

She pointed to need for improvement to the county’s recycling system, as well as the obligation to “educate people how we dispose our trash… [to] control our landfill.”

Aka`ula student Peyton Gillespie presented on a polystyrene ban with his teammates at the school’s annual PRISM Symposium event earlier this year, and submitted testimony to the county in favor of the ban.

“Based on our research, I think this ban is important for Molokai and the County because it will help insure the safety of humans and our environment,” said Gillespie via email.

Gillespie and his teammates surveyed Molokai residents and found that 49 percent of Molokai residents agreed with a ban of single-use polystyrene products in Hawaii. Their research also pointed to the substance’s dangers.

“We found that while polystyrene is convenient, it is dangerous not only to animals and our environment, but it is also dangerous to humans,” he wrote in his testimony, citing an EPA study from 1986 that found styrene residue in the fatty tissue of 100 percent of people tested.

Other research has pointed to polystyrene being a suspected carcinogen. The foam is also not biodegradable and breaks into small pieces often ingested by marine life.

For businesses concerned about the ban, Crivello pointed out that exceptions can be granted. Exceptions may be obtained “where there is no reasonable alternatives to polystyrene food service containers,” according to the bill. Exceptions also include situations “unique to the food provider, where compliance with this chapter would cause significant hardship and there is no affordable alternative to polystyrene food service containers….”

A built-in exception is the use of polystyrene containers for packaging meats, poultry, fish or eggs that require further preparation. Ready to eat products like sashimi and poke cannot be sold in polystyrene. Foam coolers and ice chests for designed for multiple re-use are permitted, along with foam blocks as protective packaging during shipping.

For more information on the county’s polystyrene ban, visit mauicounty.us/polystyrene/.

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