Proposed polystyrene ban needs more study

A bill to ban polystyrene (Styrofoam) in Maui County was first introduced back in 2009 by

County Council Member Mike Victorino. It was discussed at the same time as the plastic bag ban, which passed, but the polystyrene bill did not have the same level of support and was held. However, this week, it was heard again in the council’s Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee, chaired by Elle Cochran.

When the bill was first put forward, there was no real understanding of the impact on businesses, and to date no surveying by the county on the matter has occurred. That may be because, as reported by Environmental Management Director Kyle Ginoza, polystyrene only makes up one tenth of 1 percent of what is going into our landfill. Given this small amount, it does not even warrant its own category.

That said, several council members felt it was important to resurrect this bill to raise awareness of environmental issues and to take a more proactive stance, as other communities have created such a ban.

The crux of the discussion was on several key points, including:

* How big is this problem?

* What, if any, are the environmental and health risks?

* What are the pros and cons of imposing a ban and requiring alternative solutions?

* What would it cost businesses and the public to implement an alternative solution?

* What additional county facilities and/or waste management practices would be needed for the alternatives to break down, as our current facilities and practices do not allow for this?

* Do alternative food containers adequately protect food?

* Do we want to implement a local ban that could put local companies at a disadvantage without addressing products shipped in from elsewhere with polystyrene?

When it comes to the size of the problem and environmental and health risks, there are various studies and reports on both sides of the argument. A vetting process is needed to get to the truth.

Further, technology and pricing have changed since this bill was first taken up in 2009. One testifier said the price differential is considerably smaller. However, others pointed to substantial cost increases to make the switch, which would be passed on to consumers. People also questioned whether this is the right time to migrate to other alternatives when neither compostable or polystyrene products will biodegrade in a timely manner in our current landfill facilities.

Polystyrene is used for many things, from takeout containers to packing materials. It is used by many businesses in a variety of industries. Therefore, we have offered to survey our members to better understand their use of polystyrene, whether they use or are considering alternatives, their feelings about the ban, and impact (if any) that it would have on their business. We want to ensure the voice of business is heard.

We also feel that a task force would be helpful to review the relevant data from both sides of the argument so the council can make a more informative decision.

The measure was deferred, but will be taken up again shortly. We will have a survey out soon and encourage businesses to ring in on this issue. Businesses interested in sharing their thoughts now can send an email to info@mauichamber.com. Please list your name, business name and a phone number so that we may contact you with any questions. We will gather sentiments shared and include it in with our report to the council.

Let’s work together on creating winning solutions based on the “triple bottom line” view of sustainability – economy, environment and social well-being.

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