A dead whale washed up in the Philippines with 88 pounds of plastic in its stomach March 16, roughly the same time the Hawaii Legislature gutted a bill that would ban single-use plastics and Styrofoam in the islands.

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It is time for action to be taken on this major problem that is plaguing Hawaii and the rest of the world. We need to end our addiction to plastic. Hawaii had the opportunity to make history by becoming the first state in the nation to implement such a ban.

Instead, the Legislature chose to establish a committee that will look into the best possible ways to employ a ban on single-use plastics and Styrofoam in the near future. While the overall goal was not achieved in this legislative session, this is a step in the right direction.

Does Hawaii really need to take such drastic action? The answer is yes.

According to the Bishop Museum, Hawaii has roughly 10,000 endemic species, meaning you will not find them anywhere else in the world. There are 149 species of endemic fish. These fish need to be protected at all costs. Our reliance on single use plastics is counter-productive in our battle to protect birds, plants, fish and other aquatic life.

Plastic and other debris on Kamilo Beach on Hawaii Island.

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While the whale that died from plastic ingestion in the Philippines might seem far from our home here in Hawaii, we have our own problems with native wildlife.

In January 2018, there was a 2-mile-long patch of debris between Oahu and Molokai. The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is the largest conservation area in the U.S. Even in what should be one of the most pristine aquatic areas in the world, NOAA removed 57 tons of marine debris in 2014.

All of this debris polluting Hawaii’s natural beauty could even affect the tourism industry. The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported $16.78 billion in visitor spending in 2017 as well as 204,000 jobs supported by the industry statewide. A friend of mine was visiting during his spring break this past year and he said he had never seen so much plastic on a beach before.

Tourists will not want to come and see Hawaii’s once-pristine beaches covered in plastic. The longer we wait to ban single-use plastics, the more it will negatively affect tourism and local wildlife.

Just Say No To Styrofoam

If protecting Hawaii’s wildlife or economy was not enough to convince you a single-use plastics ban is needed, you should consider the impact of plastics on your own health. Plate lunches are extremely popular in Hawaii and it’s a relatively safe bet they’ll be served in a Styrofoam container.

The World Health Organization has reclassified polystyrene (Styrofoam) from a possible carcinogen to a probable carcinogen, meaning that it may cause cancer in humans. Ingesting micro plastics from fish and other marine life humans consume still have unknown effects, yet there are certainly better things to have in your body than small beads of plastic.

Tourists will not want to come and see Hawaii’s once-pristine beaches covered in plastic.

The major opposition to this bill comes from the restaurant industry. They claim that switching to environmentally friendly products will be a great financial burden on them as plastic alternatives are cheaper.

However, on Amazon a 50-pack of biodegradable food containers is $5 less than their Styrofoam counterpart. Even if the cost difference was several cents more, wouldn’t you be willing to pay more to cut down on plastic pollution?

The entire state needed a ban on single-use plastics in 2019; however, the committee Senate Bill 522 could establish is certainly a step in the right direction. The poor Cuvier’s beak whale found off the coast of the Philippines was a casualty of single-use plastics and so are many other animals across the world and here in Hawaii. Wildlife cannot vote, but you can.

Let your representatives know that the people of Hawaii are in favor of outlawing single-use plastics and Styrofoam.

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