The Honolulu City Council passed a landmark measure Wednesday that looks to heavily restrict single-use plastics on Oahu.

Bill 40 aims to ban most food vendors on Hawaii’s most populous island from providing plastic utensils and straws, and plastic or polystyrene foam beverage cups, plates and containers.

The council voted 7-2 at its Wednesday meeting to pass the bill on third (and final) reading after listening to about two hours of testimony — much of it from local high school students and environmental advocates speaking in strong support. Councilwomen Ann Kobayashi and Carol Fukunaga voted against the measure.

Two members of Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration also testified in support, saying his office supports the bill.

Plastic debris litters Oahu’s North Shore. Claire Caulfield/Civil Beat/2019

Local environmental groups such as Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and the Oahu chapters of Surfrider Foundation and the Sierra Club all strongly supported the effort as a way to help reduce the amount of plastic debris that litter the island’s beaches and oceans.

While much of the plastic debris drifts ashore from other regions, those groups and other supporters have heralded the measure as a chance for Hawaii to lead on the growing environmental health issue.

Under Bill 40, the new restrictions would take effect gradually, starting with city-led outreach efforts next year. In 2021, local food vendors would be prohibited from selling prepared food in polystyrene foam food ware. In 2022, they’d be prohibited from selling prepared food in disposable plastic food ware.

The measure provides multiple exemptions and allows for local businesses to apply for hardship exemptions where they can’t come up with an alternative to their disposable plastics.

Nonetheless, the bill saw opposition during the approval process by some local business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii and the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, who argued the restrictions will place an added burden on businesses trying to stay afloat in one of the country’s most expensive states.

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