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Honolulu City Council Approves Strict Plastics Ban

Casey Harlow
The final version of Bill 40 exempts local prepackaged foods, such as those pictured here.

The Honolulu City Council on Wednesday approved one of the strictest bans on plastics in the country, closing loopholes in the existing ordinance on plastic bags and prohibiting single-use utensils and Styrofoam containers.

The council passed Bill 40 on a 7-2 vote. The decision follows similar plastic bans adopted on Maui and Hawaii Island.

The measure now goes to Mayor Kirk Caldwell for review. If he signs it into the law, the restrictions would be phased in starting in 2021 when loopholes in the plastic bag ban would be closed. The full ban would take effect on Jan. 1, 2022. 

Businesses not adhering to the law would face fines of up to $1,000 a day, but they could file for an exemption if they cannot find reasonable, non-plastic replacements.

The mayor has been generally supportive of the measure.

“Whatever bill comes out, I will probably sign into law, subject to review by corporation counsel,” he said at a press conference in November. “I think if we get it right, I’ll be signing it.”

Environmentalists have championed the bill, which focuses on food industry plastics that often litter Oahu's streets and waterways. Since the plastic utensils and containers are made using fossil fuels, their production also contributes to climate change.

Business owners said previous versions of the bill would have a host of unintended consequences. Some have also argued that a state plastic reduction working group has been researching the issue, and a statewide policy would be the best approach.

Previous bill amendments proposed by Council members Tommy Waters and Ron Menor included changes addressing food industry concerns. Plastics could still be used for prepackaged foods like bentos and kimchi, for example, as well as for packaging of food like chips and poi. 

Council members Ann Kobayashi and Carol Fukunaga both voted against the measure.

Fukunaga said she was concerned about last-minute amendments to the bill. She further said she would have liked to see the working group review the issues statewide.

Bill 40 was amended during the meeting to clarify exemptions for caterers and businesses that sell plasticware.

“This is my contribution to m?lama honua (care for the Earth),” said Council member Joey Manahan, who introduced the measure. “It is no longer mine, but everyone’s because we are talking about the well-being of our ??ina, our oceans and our planet.”

Jason Ubay is the managing editor at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Send your story ideas to him at jubay@hawaiipublicradio.org.
Ashley Mizuo
Born and raised on O’ahu, she’s a graduate of ‘Iolani School and has a BA in Journalism and Political Science from Loyola University Chicago and an MA in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.
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