LIHU‘E — A measure to ban most polystyrene food containers from Kaua‘i passed first reading before the County Council Wednesday and is set for public hearing Tuesday, March 25.
The discussion came a day after Mayor Derek Kawakami signed off on a new, internal county policy prohibiting the use, purchase or distribution of disposable plastics on county property.
Should the council ultimately approve Bill 2775, it would make the county the fourth in Hawai‘i to approve a ban aimed at prohibiting single-use plastics. Maui, O‘ahu and Hawai‘i Island have already approved similar legislation.
Introduced by Councilmembers Mason Chock and KipuKai Kuali‘i, the measure passed the first reading with a 6-1 vote. The sole dissenter was Councilmember Arthur Brun.
Chock said Wednesday the measure is just as much about diverting waste from the landfill as it is about curbing plastic consumption and cleaning up the environment.
“It’s no secret I’ve been trying to get a polystyrene ban on the agenda for the last five years,” Chock said. “It’s about timing. This administration is now poised to look at diversion at a more serious level.”
The Kekaha Landfill is expected to be full in 2027, and the county is analyzing options for locating a new landfill as well as maximizing use of the current landfill.
In addition to a full council chamber on Wednesday, the council received 112 emails in testimony on the bill, according to Kuali‘i. Only one of those emails was testifying against the bill.
Concerns and opposition to the bill revolve mainly around the added expense of biodegradable or compostable packaging for small businesses and restaurants, the inability of alternative packaging to hold foods like hot soup, and the existence of other polystyrene sources on the island.
Brun and council Vice Chair Ross Kagawa both voiced concerns that the bill is targeting the wrong sector of the community and suggested the focus should be put on other aspects of the presence of the polystyrene on Kaua‘i.
Kagawa said he thought there should be more of an effort to curb the act of littering in general. Brun said he thinks there are other, bigger polystyrene sources that need to be addressed before restaurants are added to the list.
“Say you buy one plate, you think it’s a bigger problem than buying a TV?” Brun said during Wednesday’s meeting. “With a TV, you’ve got all the foam in there. Look at Costco. Every item has Styrofoam and plastic.”
Proponents of the bill maintain that carryout food containers are used in higher quantities and more frequently than some of those bigger-ticket items like televisions, and that they’re more prevalent on the beach.
They also maintain that if polystyrene is — for the most part — banned on the island, it won’t be part of the litter that’s seen along roadsides and in beach parks.
“Absolutely this is a littering issue,” said testifier Fern Holland. “I was born and raised in Kapahi and I still live there and we deal with a lot of rubbish. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Also part of the proposed bill is an option for exemption for which restaurants can submit applications, criteria for while is still being developed.
In the audience Wednesday was Rebecca Hart’s third-grade Kilauea School class, which attended the meeting as a field trip. Six of the keiki testified in front of the council.
“I surf, and when I surf sometimes I see a lot of plastic in the water, and microplastics and pieces of Styrofoam, which I don’t like” said Aleia Kanehe, who testified with her friend, Aria Godinez.
Bill 2775 was scheduled to go to committee for further discussion.
Jessica Else, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.