Panel to look at ban on foam food containers

A Maui County Council committee will take up a bill this afternoon to ban polystyrene food containers, a measure similar to a plastic grocery bag ban that took effect in 2011.

The Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee will consider the measure at 1:30 p.m. today in council chambers in Wailuku. The bill would ban the use and sale of polystyrene disposable food service containers, said committee Chairwoman Elle Cochran.

Polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam, is widely used for plate lunch and takeout containers.

Council Member Mike Victorino introduced the bill that would prevent food establishments and vendors from using such containers.

“When ingested, polystyrene may become lethal to our marine animals and birds. It is not biodegradable and can exist in our landfills for hundreds of years. These widely recognized environmental impacts show good cause for consideration of a countywide ban,” Cochran said. “It is our duty as council members to implement policies that will protect and preserve our natural resources.”

Exemptions in the bill include those for prepared foods packaged outside the county and polystyrene foam coolers and ice chests specifically designed for reuse.

Food providers will be able to apply for a one-year exemption if they can show that no reasonable alternative to polystyrene containers is available or if compliance with the ban would cause significant economic hardship.

“Considering our community’s collective success and ability to adjust to the plastic bag ban implemented in 2011, it seems to be a reasonable next step that we address the issues surrounding polystyrene containers,” Cochran said. “The bill would promote environmental awareness and support responsible waste management.”

The Honolulu City Council is considering a similar bill. It would require that plates, cups, bowls, trays and other food containers be compostable.

Signs were recently posted at the entrance of a Kauai town: “Welcome to Kilauea. A Styrofoam Free Community.”