Long-term trash solutions needed for Maui
We are three years into the debate over to-go food containers and we still haven’t come up with a long-term trash solution on Maui. My homeland country of Denmark is mandating that all households should recycle 50 percent of their trash, and they are aiming to close all landfills by 2020 as well, focusing on recycling, composting or next-generation incinerators.
The County Council held a hearing last week to discuss the pros and cons of a polystyrene ban. Experts verified that polystyrene food service containers are safe to use and are not a human carcinogen. To-go food containers are not the same as Styrofoam used for packaging, insulation and marine floatation, which are often found in coastal cleanups and are not included in the current ban. Items exempted: foam coolers and ice chests, foam blocks or pieces used as protective pieces in shipping (e.g., packing peanuts) and food containers used for raw meats, poultry, fish or eggs. Why are these items exempted?
Everyone testifying on May 8 agreed that we must do what we can to protect the marine environment surrounding us. It was a “chicken-skin” moment to realize that the businesses and environmentalists who were testifying want to work together and come up with real solutions. Trash cans and dumpsters at all parks need covers to prevent trash from flying into the ocean.
All of our trash on Maui currently goes to the landfill, and there are no plans in the near future for a facility to compost or recycle food containers. Even if we switch to compostable containers, these containers will end up in the same landfill. The biodegradable/compostable products will not break down in the landfill. They need to be separated from the rest of the trash and put in a special composting facility.
Composting is a method for treating solid waste in which organic material is broken down by microorganisms in the presence of oxygen — the complete opposite of a landfill where our containers are currently going. Landfills are not designed to break down trash, merely to bury it without oxygen. Just exchanging one form of trash for another much more expensive one in the landfill isn’t a solution. A ban on Styrofoam takeout containers is premature until we have the composting abilities on Maui.
The ecofriendly products are two to three times more expensive — 10 cents for a three-compartment Styrofoam container versus 28 cents to 39 cents for ecoproduct containers. Every food service establishment will be spending thousands of more dollars a year (approximately $8,000 a year for my restaurant, CJ’s Deli) for products that don’t break down in the landfill. I would rather spend this money on helping to build a composting facility on Maui and working with the environmentalists to really make Maui green!
Instead of banning a product, it might be better for the county to require all food establishments to offer biodegradable/compostable products as well as the Styrofoam products. Let the restaurants and customers choose the product that works best. Hot, wet foods need secure containers that keep food warm and prevent spills. Cold foods need insulation to keep them cold.
Forcing this switch on schools, the county’s senior congregate dining and Meals on Wheels programs was not discussed or considered at the hearing. The county’s increased costs for using these higher-priced compostable containers will force it to cut services or take funds from elsewhere to cover these extra costs.
The council and mayor need to ensure that curbside recycling for the entire island is included in the 2018 budget. Recycling centers should be readily accessible for residents and tourists. Currently, there is no recycling center on the west side of the island where my restaurant is located. Keeping items out of the ocean and landfill should be the No. 1 priority. No one wins when we argue. Let’s step back, consider the facts, and kokua toward a real solution that works for all of us on Maui.
* Christian Jorgensen is the owner of CJ’s Deli & Diner & Catering in Kaanapali.