(BIVN) – The Hawaii County Council, on the verge of implementing a ban on polystyrene food containers on the Big Island, heard compelling arguments from both sides of the issue on Friday before postponing a vote on the matter.
The council has been working out the particulars of a proposed polystyrene food container ban for months, and now appears to be closing in on a final version of a bill that would do so.
Bill 13, introduced by councilwoman Eileen O’Hara, will prohibit food vendors “from dispensing prepared food in disposable polystyrene food service ware” – to be implemented in tandem with the County’s full-scale compost program, according to an amendment. The bill exempts “ice chest and coolers, County facility users and food vendors with approval by the Environmental Management Director, and County facility users and food vendors procuring supplies during an event declared as an emergency by the Mayor.” It was also amended to exempt “packaging for raw meat, fish, and eggs… until such time that compostable alternatives are developed and available.”
During the Hawaii County Council meeting in Hilo on July 7, the public again had a chance to testify. The vast majority wanted to see the Styrofoam products phased out. Their desire to reduce the foam food products is largely driven by environmental concerns.
But the science behind those environmental concerns was questioned by consultant for K. Yamada Distributors, Joy Gold.
“We do refute the claims of harm to people as well as to marine animals,” Gold told the council.
Gold questioned the county’s ability to implement the reduction as it will rely on “the assumption that compostable food containers can be diverted to the county’s compost facility by July 1st 2018, a questionable implementation date,” she said.
Puna State Senator Russell Ruderman – the owner of the Island Naturals Market chain – refuted Gold’s “misinformation”, saying he has years of experience with alternative products.
“I brought a few show and tell items here,” Ruderman said, presenting several drink cups and food containers. “The cost differential between these and their Styrofoam equivalent is between zero and maybe ten cents on average.”
Gold, on the other hand, raises questions about cost. “So much has been said about the cost differential,” Gold said. “A careful study is encouraged because it may have impact. The K. Yamada Distributors price shows that it can be as much as $40 a case for regular pulp and $45 case for the higher-end pulp products.”
“I don’t understand how someone can tell us that the price of a plate lunch is going to go up 50 cents, when the only cost increase was five or ten cents,” Ruderman said. “How does that happen? It’s completely absurd. So when someone tells you the price of your lunch will be unaffordable, you know they’re speaking nonsense. It will go up a nickel or maybe a dime if the business chooses to pass a hundred percent of that increased cost on. Most will not do so.”
The council voted to forward the bill to the environmental management commission for their review. The council will then take the matter up on a subsequent meeting date.