Proposed Styrofoam Ban

 
What is so light that it gets dispersed as litter in a light breeze, but strong enough to hold food; that can break into pieces that can take decades to breakdown, which pieces are ingested and toxic to marine animals and seabirds?  Styrofoam.  The introducer of a bill to ban styrofoam, Councilmember Eilene O'Hara, explained the reasons for the ban, potential cost impact to vendors who use them, alternative products, and status of the bill.
 
The technical name for styrofoam is polystyrene (PS) (labeled #6).  
 
PS is typically used for food containers, egg cartons, disposable cups and bowls, take-out food containers, and deli food plates.  PS food containers can leach styrene, which is considered a brain and nervous system toxicant. Animal studies have shown adverse effects on genes, lungs, liver, and the immune system.  Besides the public health concerns, other reasons to ban PS containers include the costs of landfilling items that don't degrade, costs of cleaning up litter, and negative impacts on wildlife.
 
The proposed bill would ban food, fresh and prepared, that is packaged on the Big Island using polystyrene served by food vendors (all eateries), County food vendors (concessions), and institutions (schools, hospitals).  The bill would exempt:
  • Foods packaged outside the limits of the County of Hawai`i,
  • Foam coolers and ice chests intended for reuse,
  • Materials used to package raw meat and raw fish products,
  • County facility users and food vendors may be exempted by the DEM Director for up to six (6) months where it can be demonstrated that compliance with this law results in undue hardship,
  • Emergency supplies or services procured in situations where the mayor has declared an emergency 
The date this ordinance would take effect will likely be July 1, 2019.  The County Department of Environmental Management would be directed to conduct a public education program regarding compostable alternatives at least six months prior to the law taking effect.
 
Compostable alternatives include:
  • fiber products made from leftover agricultural fiber-- suitable for food up to 200 degrees F
  • PLA and tPLA products-- made from compostable plastic derived from corn or other vegetable products-- suitable for food up to 120 to 200 degrees F
  • paper products-- bowls and cups made from FSC paper with bio-lining-- suitable for foods up to 220 degrees F
These alternatives are comparable in cost to PS, except for clamshell which a cost-competitive alternative is coming soon.  Currently, 137 eating establshments on this island have voluntarily committed to be green restaurants dedicated to being "foam free".
The status of the bill is that it is a work in progress.  It is currently in committee to do more research on what other jurisdictions have done.  An ad hoc report is due the end of June.