It’s time we bid a final farewell to the plastic-based nuisance polystyrene.

Ubiquitous in carry-out containers and convenience items, and more commonly known as Styrofoam, its death means certain life in our Hawaiian Islands. It is a hazard to human health. It’s detrimental to the health of our oceans, and to Hawaii’s biggest industry — tourism. Banning polystyrene removes death from our islands, and allows life, health, and innovation to prevail.

This Friday, Hawaii legislators have the opportunity to continue to prove Hawaii a leader on environment and health initiatives by supporting Senate Bill 2498.

Styrene, a compound of polystyrene, contains benzene, a known carcinogen in animals. The National Academy of Sciences and the National Institute of Health concluded styrene is “reasonably anticipated” to be a human carcinogen. This carcinogen is more easily transferrable when styrene is heated — and how often do we dump warm food into our to-go containers before leaving a restaurant?

Supporters dress up with bikini top before boarding bus to Pali Longs Drugs to encourage the City to close the loophole in the plastic bag ban and the State to pass a ban on syrofoam food containers. 10 feb 2017
Supporters dressed up with “bikini tops” before a protest at Pali Longs Drugs over plastic bags and the Styrofoam food containers in February 2017. 

Further, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Waste Reduction Model report shows that burning polystyrene — as we do when we incinerate polystyrene at H-POWER — emits more carbon dioxide equivalent than other plastics.

For each ton of polystyrene incinerated, we allow 1.64 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions into the atmosphere — that’s air we, and our children, breathe. It’s the air we need to survive. It’s air that impacts not just Hawaii, but the planet as a whole.

Burdening Marine Life

Polystyrene’s simple existence as a product is dangerous to human health both in its use and in its disposal. But it’s not just humans that feel the effects.

Marine life also feels the burden of our polystyrene use. With tourism as Hawaii’s primary industry, the health of the oceans is paramount. Polystyrene is one of the greatest threats to the health of our oceans — so light and brittle that it breaks apart easily, those tiny pieces finding their way faster and in larger quantities to our waterways than other forms of plastic pollution.

Foam is found in the bellies of dead marine life, and its chemicals leach into the waters around it, tainting it with those “reasonably anticipated” carcinogens. It touches every aspect of life in Hawaii — and beyond.

Polystyrene is one of the greatest threats to the health of our oceans

Financially, polystyrene foam is a burden.

Foam is the No. 1 culprit at beach cleanups, and the biggest cost to Hawaiian taxpayers, according to the Department of Transportation, who estimated that Styrofoam and plastic bags are the number one source of waste (and cleanup). San Diego County, with population equivalent to Hawaii, spends $14 million alone on plastic cleanup — that’s taxpayer money that could be better spent elsewhere.

The foam ban creates an opportunity to breathe life into our oceans and, subsequently, ensure the health of our tourism industry — an industry integral to the livelihood of so many Hawaiians.

Ocean Friendly Restaurants

Hawaii is ready for this ban.

Over 140 Hawaiian restaurants have already gone polystyrene-free. In fact, the Ocean Friendly Restaurant movement was so successful in Hawaii that Surfrider Foundation introduced the program at the national level — a testament to the enthusiasm with which the OFR has been received. OFR restaurants are some of the most vociferous supporters of the polystyrene ban, seeing first-hand the positive effects of dumping polystyrene and choosing compostable, non-petroleum based products instead.

The economic benefit of the polystyrene ban extends beyond restaurant owners, as many of Hawaii’s main purveyors of compostable food-grade products are Hawaiian-based businesses, to include companies like Sustainable Island Products, Triple FFF and Diamond Head Distributors. Supporting these purveyors supports local Hawaiians, and can create job opportunities: material for fiber containers can be grown and manufactured right here in Hawaii.

Contrast that with trying to create polystyrene manufacturing jobs in Hawaii, which directly exposes workers to large amounts of toxic chemicals — chemicals that need to be shipped to Hawaii — and the choice seems an obvious one.

What does the future of Hawaii look like without polystyrene? It looks healthier — healthier people, healthier oceans and beaches, and a healthier economy. We hope Hawaii’s leaders will consider the potential for this robust future when voting for SB 2498, the polystyrene ban, this Friday.

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