HILO — Polystyrene foam food containers will remain banned under a bill advanced Monday by a County Council panel, but locally nonrecyclable alternatives will be allowed when the law goes into effect July 1.
The Committee on Agriculture, Water, Energy and Environmental Management unanimously advanced Bill 74, giving food service vendors more options, after hearing from a number of them that the county’s recent change in recycling policy has hampered their plans to switch to alternatives to the material commonly known as Styrofoam.
The 2017 law allowed both compostable or recyclable plastic containers as substitutes to polystyrene. But the county Dec. 1 stopped accepting No. 5 plastic “clamshell” containers for recycling because there is no longer a market to recycle them.
Bill 74, sponsored by Kohala Councilman Tim Richards gives the vendors more wiggle room. It was loosened further Monday with an amendment changing “Is” to “may be” processed into material used in new products.
“I think the council has heard loud and clear it’s going to be incremental, there are going to be steps going forward,” Richards said. “At the same time we can’t put our companies out of business.”
The measure has also been approved by the Environmental Management Commission, and faces two more hearings at the council.
“Everything was tied in to our recycling program and that wreaked havoc,” said Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung.
Representatives of the Hawaii Food Industry Association and Hawaii Restaurant Association supported the changes, and made a few more suggestions for clarity.
“It’s going to be a challenge as it is,” said Zippy’s Chief Executive Officer Jason Higa. “We in the industry … are doing our best to adapt on behalf of our customers.”
All of the testifiers stressed that they supported removing polystyrene from the waste stream.
“As we find a suitable alternative we will change, but right now we support only the ban on polystyrene,” said Derek Kurisu, executive vice president of KTA Super Stores.
The Surfrider Foundation also supported the changes, leading to less resistance than originally expected from environmentalists.
“I think there was a lot of fear when people heard we were going into the bill and making amendments, but I think this is a clarifying bill,” said North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff.
Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas said her constituents were concerned that the council was trying to put in “loopholes.”
“While all the solutions aren’t available right now, I’m excited … to remove polystyrene on this island,” Villegas said.
Puna Councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder, who’s in the restaurant business, said he understands adapting to new containers is a challenge, but he’s all for it.
“There’s only so much waste we can pile in the holes before we fill them up,” he said.