The final hearing of Honolulu City Council Bill 40 is scheduled for Wednesday.

A new version, Bill 40 CD1 FD1 proposed by council member Tommy Waters, amends the definition of disposable and closes a plastic bag loophole — both amendments proposed by Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii to strengthen the bill. It also further defines what is and isn’t included in the ban.

This is a major bill that the council has been working on since it was introduced in August by council member Joey Manahan. There have been many opportunities for input by the community. Wednesday will be the sixth hearing of the bill in the past four months.

Should the council pass this bill, it will be a huge achievement. It’s like five bills in one: tackling plastic bags, polystyrene foam, straws and stirrers, utensils, and other disposable plastic for takeout (including hot and cold beverage cups, plates and more). Instead of lagging behind other counties, Honolulu will lead the way.

Bill 40 not only catches up to Maui and Hawaii counties’ polystyrene foam bans and Kauai’s plastic bag ban, it will make further advancements to reducing the plastic load on the environment by banning the use of disposable plastic cups, lids, plates, bowls, utensils, straws, stirrers and even the plastic grass in the sushi.

Plastic straws are among the items to be banned under Bill 40, which has a final vote this week.

Flickr: D Coetzee

Like Maui’s bill that bans both the use and sale of polystyrene foam, Honolulu’s bill will do this and more. The sale of disposable plastic items for eating and drinking will also be banned.

Contrary to what some believe, this bill is not going to hurt local businesses or harm local jobs.

There have been 10 versions of Bill 40. The latest version not only gives businesses a longer lead time to use up old inventory of plastic bags, polystyrene foam and disposable plastic items, but it also has lists of exemptions. These exemptions include allowing straws in medical situations and exempts bottles, cartons, wrappers, film and food-related bags.

The packaging of the following are also exempt: raw meat, poultry, seafood, produce, eggs, prepackaged food, shelf stable foods (includes drinks), unprepared food and the wholesale distribution of prepared food, baked goods or dairy products. There are also a number of safety nets for businesses to ensure that if their situation is not already covered, they can apply for an industry-wide exemption. Bill 40 is aimed at prepared food and drinks only. Changing from a petrochemical plastic product to a compostable, safe alternative is not going to harm businesses or jobs.

In fact it will increase business for food vendors as more people will want to buy take-out food knowing that the containers are safe. In addition, tourism will increase because Honolulu will be seen as an environmentally responsible place to visit.

By banning plastic straws, stirrers, utensils and all the take-out food containers, Hawaii’s beaches, parks, streets and streams will be a lot cleaner as plastic from drinking and eating are among the most found items in these places. B.E.A.C.H. refers to items left at beach parks as “beach goer trash” as distinguished from marine debris which comes to Hawaii via the ocean from other places.

Bill 40 is not going to hurt local businesses or harm local jobs.

This bill will go a long way to addressing the problem of beach goer trash by banning nearly all of the items that are most prevalent. By tackling the home grown trash problem, Honolulu will then be in a stronger position to ask for action from other places to tackle plastic marine debris.

Here is a summary of what the proposed Bill 40 CD1 FD1 will do:

  • In January 2021 the remaining plastic bag loopholes will be closed with a ban on plastic checkout bags (with handles) for takeout food, medications, loose items (including fruit and vegetables) and bags given to hotel guests for wet or dirty clothing. A ban on thick and compostable plastic checkout bags is due to start in January 2020 due to the passage of Bill 59 in 2017.
  • Also in January 2021, food vendors will not be allowed to provide customers with disposable plastic utensils, straws, stirrers and baran (plastic grass in sushi) and the non-plastic alternatives to these will be provided only upon request or in a self-service area. Polystyrene foam containers for food and drinks will be banned for use or sale at city facilities or events.
  • In January 2022, food vendors will not be allowed to provide prepared food in polystyrene foam containers or disposable plastic plates, cups, lids, clamshells and bowls. In addition, businesses will not be allowed to sell disposable plastic straws, stirrers, utensils, cups, plates, bowls or polystyrene foam containers for food and drinks.

There are plenty of great alternatives to plastic available. Businesses can follow the examples set on Maui by charging an additional 10 to 25 cents more for takeout in compostable containers. Customers are not going to mind. They didn’t on Maui. People will be happy to know that they are eating out of a safe container and not one that can cause them ill health.

Honolulu should be proud of the City Council for taking the necessary, strong action needed to protect human health from plastic chemicals, reduce the plastic load on the environment and save Hawaii’s endangered and threatened species.

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About the Author

  • Suzanne Frazer
    Suzanne Frazer is the co-founder and president of Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii, an award-winning nonprofit that brings awareness and solutions to plastic marine debris through environmental education in schools and the community, marine debris removal and research, and plastic reduction/litter prevention campaigns.