County Prepares for Foam Food Container Ban

Hawaii Island’s ban on polystyrene — also known as Styrofoam — food containers goes into effect in less than five months, and an educational program for businesses and the public is about to begin.

The County Council on Tuesday got an update on the program from Recycling Coordinator George Hayducsko, who outlined a schedule to implement administrative rules for the polystyrene ban, starting with brochures, posters and public hearings and ending with public service announcements before becoming law July 1.

Freshman council members questioned whether the new law, passed in 2017, goes far enough. The new law doesn’t address the pathway to a compost or recycling facility once the container is in the consumers’ hands, said Puna members Ashley Kierkiewicz and Matthew Kanealii-Kleinfelder.

“As an end user of this product, I don’t see how it’s ultimately going to be recycled or reused,” Kierkiewicz said.

But their more veteran colleagues said it was a challenge taking the measure that far.

“It wasn’t an easy task to get this adopted,” said North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff. “In the last couple of years since this was adopted, there are a lot more choices.”

Kohala Councilman Tim Richards characterized the law as more educational than regulatory. The law does have teeth, although policing violators will be complaint-driven.

Kanealii-Kleinfelder said it’s a good starting point, but he wants to see more in the future.

“I think this is a good stepping stone to get this started,” he said.

The county will use a small business advisory committee to help draft the rules and a small business regulatory review board to review them. Public hearings are contemplated in April.

The department is encouraging restaurateurs, food vendors and those dispensing food in single-use containers to adopt certified compostable products. Compostable disposable food service ware includes bio-plastics and fiber-based products.

The county rule will require the use of compostables certified by the Biodegradable Product Institute, which a carry a BPI logo. The products are compostable in an industrial composting facility, such as one Hawaii County has planned to open by July 1, 2020.

The 2017 law allowed both compostable or recyclable containers, but the county recently stopped accepting plastic “clamshell” containers because there is no longer a market to recycle them.

The new law doesn’t cover straws, lids or cutlery, but the county is encouraging businesses to switch to environmentally preferred alternatives, which are also readily available.

Regulation of the ban will be solely complaint-driven.

“We don’t have the staff to go out and inspect the restaurants. We just don’t have the ability, so our plan is to have the process complaint-driven,” Hayducsko said.

More than 100 communities in the nation have passed some kind of polystyrene ban. More than 125 Big Island businesses had already gone polystyrene-free two years ago, according to a report by the Hawaii Wildlife Fund and Surfrider Foundation with assistance from Sustainable Island Products.

Items shipped into the state are covered by interstate commerce laws and thus are not easy to regulate. Food packaged outside the county as well as packaging for raw meat, fish and eggs that have not been further processed are exempt from the ban.

Fines range from $10 to $600 per violation, depending on whether the violation is part of a special event and the size of the special event. A written warning will first be issued. Each sale or transfer of food in a polystyrene container counts as a single violation.

In situations where compliance with the ordinance would result in undue hardship, the Environmental Management director may exempt a food vendor or county facility user from the requirements for a period not to exceed 180 days, under the law.

Some council members’ impatience notwithstanding, testifier Jon Olson, a member of the county Environmental Management Commission, was glad to see action.

“We only waited about 25 years to get this far with the Styrofoam effort,” Olson said.

By Nancy Cook Lauer West Hawaii Today ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com

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