It could go into effect as early as 2019

By Stacey Leasca
April 06, 2018
Sami Sarkis/Getty

Hawaii is well-known for its stunning beaches, breathtaking landscapes, and ocean views that just won’t quit. And the state would like to keep it that way by banning a major polluting material forever.

In an effort to protect its delicate ecosystem—which attracts 8.9 million tourists a year—the state of Hawaii is mulling over a new bill that would ban the use and sale of polystyrene containers, otherwise known as styrofoam.

“As you know, polystyrene cannot be recycled. It’s made from fossil fuels,” Oʻahu Senator Stanley Chang told Hawaii Public Radio. “And once it gets out into the environment through littering or otherwise. It breaks apart into small pieces, which is then eaten by wildlife, i.e. birds, fish, and so on.”

Similar efforts have already passed at city and community levels, including in Washington, D.C., Miami Beach, New York City, and Los Angeles, but have yet to make it to the state level.

While it may seem like a no-brainer to take a hard-to-recycle and non-biodegradable material out of circulation, not everyone is on board with the effort, including many of Hawaii’s restaurant owners.

Related: Meet our 2017 Ocean Heroes

“It’s going to force restaurant operators to spend three or four times more on the same type of container,” restaurant owner Gregg Fraser told Hawaii Public Radio. “What do we do? I have to go and either (A) raise prices on my menu or (B) lay some people off because I can’t afford.”

Instead of banning styrofoam, Fraser, who is the Executive Director of the Hawai’i Restaurant Association, said the state needs to instead invest more in “campaigns, more efforts, and more funding to control our trash so it doesn’t become litter.”

Still, leaders in the effort to ban styrofoam explained that there is no need for restaurant owners to worry, as the material will be phased out over years and not simply shut off in one single day. Moreover, Stuart Coleman, Hawaiʻi manager for the Surfrider Foundation, a major supporter of the ban, said restaurants can simply look to others on Maui and The Big Island for inspiration as styrofoam has already been banned on both of those islands.

"This ban is not going to fix the problem of plastic pollution in Hawaii, but it will be a big step in the right direction." Douglas McCauley, a University of California–Santa Barbara marine biologist, told Pacific Standard. "It will cut back on a particularly insidious form of plastic pollution that is easy to replace and that is known to harm ocean wildlife."

If the bill passes in the state’s House Finance Committee, the ban will take effect on January 1, 2019. Furthermore, Hawaii lawmakers aren’t stopping at styrofoam. Lawmakers in The Aloha State are also close to banning plastic straws across all the islands as well. If this is inspiring you to make changes in your own home, it’s now easier than ever to go green. Just check out these eco-friendly kitchen products, and you’ll be well on your way to doing your part for Mother Earth.