Discussion on polystyrene continues

On Monday, the Maui County Council’s Infrastructure & Environmental Management Committee received testimony and a report on the Polystyrene Task Force, which the Maui Chamber of Commerce was pleased to participate in. We appreciate the council creating a task force to allow stakeholders to discuss the proposed ban in more detail and thank Council Member Mike Victorino for chairing this effort.

The first night, the task force quickly identified that polystyrene is not a landfill issue so that rationale for the bill was thrown out. The primary intent of the draft bill was then clear: to protect marine animals and birds from the hazards of plastic litter.

Over four meetings we reviewed research, discussed concerns with the current legislative draft, tested alternative and polystyrene products at Zippy’s to compare and contrast them, and tried to find common ground.

Beyond agreement on the primary intent of the bill and the fact that Maui has a litter problem to tackle, there was no consensus.

Business members on the task force saw that plastic litter, in general, not just polystyrene, was the real issue. They feel a ban on polystyrene is unnecessary because it would create negative impacts to local residents and businesses and cause harm without achieving the stated goal of “protecting marine animals and birds from the hazards of plastic litter.” They instead sought a public/private partnership between businesses and the county to control litter onshore and prevent it from getting into the marine environment to address that goal.

Proponents of the bill felt that a ban is necessary to obtain more biodegradable options that would break down sooner than polystyrene, even though our current landfill practices do not allow these “biodegradable” products to break down as intended and despite county initiatives to move forward with waste-to-energy conversion where both biodegradable and polystyrene containers can be turned into fuel.

While not agreeing on a polystyrene ban, we identified a winning solution that all were interested in solving – addressing litter and keeping it from our marine environment. The business community is eager to get started. Controlling litter will better protect our environment, reduce marine debris and benefit our marine animals. We can begin now and have a fantastic outcome for the investment of time and energy spent on this issue. It will also save time and resources moving forward as no consensus has been reached since this issue was first introduced five years ago.

We should clarify our use of the word “ban” as it was questioned on Monday. By “ban,” we mean legally preventing something and/or making it go away.

I was always told that actions speak louder than words and therefore believe we must look at the intended actions of an initiative, not just the words used.

Covering the Polystyrene Task Force report, Victorino stated that he never used the word “ban,” which is true. He has consistently shared that his vision is to start somewhere to reduce the use of polystyrene. Given this, we offer two points for consideration.

First, even if one prevents the use of only certain types of polystyrene (say, clam-shell containers or expanded polystyrene cups), it is still a ban on those products. Second, the Polystyrene Task Force found that the use of polystyrene is already declining. Many eateries, driven by personal interests or the marketplace, are already choosing alternative products. Generally, those who are still using polystyrene need to for a specific purpose. Therefore, Victorino’s vision has already come to fruition since the bill was introduced in 2009, further explaining why a ban is unnecessary.

* Pamela Tumpap is president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce.