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House Committees Decide Fate Of Polystyrene And Plastic Ban Proposals

Casey Harlow/HPR

Two House committees heard impassioned testimony yesterday from residents and local businesses on bills that would ban various plastic and polystyrene containers.

Senate Bill 367 would prohibit the sale and use of polystyrene containers in the state.

Representatives from the House Judiciary and Consumer Protection and Commerce Committees heard from a packed room of supporters and opponents.

A number of business and restaurant associations say the bill will hurt small businesses.

"The restaurants that are using the styrofoam containers are the small mom and pop, especially the ethnic, restaurants," said Victor Lim of the Hawaii Restaurant Association. "[They use this] purely for the performance criteria, as well as the cost."

Others who oppose the measure say the state needs to make sure the polystyrene containers don't enter the environment.

However, some businesses support a ban, saying they have found alternatives. Such as Natsuko Takeda, a coffee shop owner in Waikiki who no longer uses plastic straws and styrofoam cups. During her testimony, Takeda gave committee members a list of how much money she is saving by using more bio-friendly products.

Hideki Kimukai spoke on her behalf during the meeting. "By reducing the to-go cups, she's saving a lot of money. And she's showing it is possible to do that," said Kimukai. "By reducing her cost, she's been able to raise wages for her employees. That gives her employees a more postive experience, and her customers a more positive experience."

Committee members also heard testimony on SB 522 – which would ban various plastic goods, and create a working group to reduce plastics.

Opponents of the measure say there are no viable alternatives being produced in the market right now.

"We've been in business for 27 years. In that 27 years, I have searched for products," said David Hong, co-owner of Island Plastic Bags. "I met with scientists, and we've brought in tapioca to try out. We manufactured tapioca bags. Great, it fell apart, but it's useless."

"We brought in new COD – new CO2 products . . . But they all fail," Hong said. "What I'm saying to you is that there is no viable alternative right now. There's products coming down the pipe. There will be products 10 years, 20 years from now that can replace plastic bags."

Meanwhile, supporters of the bill say now is the time to ban plastic products citing the impacts plastic pollution is having on local beaches and ecosystems.

"This is the time this needs to happen," said Rafael Bergstrom of the Surfrider Foundation's O?ahu Chapter. "Our oceans are truly choking on plastic right now."

Bergstrom also expressed what he hopes the working group can do to reduce plastic in the future – mainly phasing out plastic packaging.

"70 percent of plastics are coming in the packaging," said Bergstrom. "And that is the whole point of having a working group, where we're working directly with the industry, and the communities, and all of you (lawmakers) to find the solutions for a ten year plan of how we are actually going to get the rest of plastics out of Hawai?i."

The committees deferred the first measure, but passed the second with amendments – stripping away langauge that would have prohibited plastic goods, and leaving the establishment of a plastic reduction working group.

The Senate and House will need to work out any of their differences in conference committees at a later time.

Casey Harlow was an HPR reporter and occasionally filled in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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