Bill would restrict use of plastic foodware

Vendors point to high cost of compostable alternatives

Plastic forks are ready for guests to use at the buffet following Tuesday morning’s dedication ceremony for the Kahului Airport Consolidated Rent-A-Car (CONRAC) Facility. A bill before the Maui County Council would prohibit food providers from selling, using, providing or offering single-use plastic disposable foodware within the county. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

WAILUKU– Ashley O’Colmain brought members of a Maui County Council committee jars filled with seawater and plastic she picked up at Kahului Harbor just before a Tuesday committee meeting.

“It’s very scary. All I did was scoop it off of the top of the sand,” she said.

O’Colmain is a program assistant with Maui Huliau Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting environmental literacy and leadership through Maui’s youths.

“Clearly it’s not all from us, it’s coming from around the world, but this is a huge problem and I’m very proud that we’ve enacted these plastic bag bans and Styrofoam ban,” she said of Maui County’s existing laws during Tuesday’s meeting of the council’s Environmental, Agricultural and Cultural Preservation Committee.

The members heard from a panel including O’Colmain regarding the possible effects of two bills proposed by former Council Member Elle Cochran.

Its one-time use completed along with a shrimp plate lunch, a plastic fork is ready to throw away Tuesday in Kahului.

One would restrict the use and sale of single-use plastic disposable foodware, and another would amend the county’s law regarding plastic bags. No action was scheduled for the two bills.

The bill restricting the use and sale of single-use plastic disposable foodware notes that single-use plastic disposable foodware, which continues to exist as microscopic fragments for decades, contributes to the potential death of marine animals and avian populations that may ingest it. It also has been found to be ingested by humans in microplastic through the food chain.

The bill would have food providers “not sell, use, provide, or offer single-use plastic disposable foodware within the county.”

But compostable alternatives can be offered upon request by the customer.

Violations could result in civil penalties up to $1,000. Fines collected would be deposited into the solid waste management fund, according to the bill.

The remains of a plastic fork rest in a dirt parking lot near Kahului Harbor Tuesday.

Panel speaker Gretchen Losano, co-founder of West Maui Green Cycle, said that the “vast majority” of restaurants that she has sold compostable products to have shown positive feedback.

The two main concerns of vendors who test alternative foodware products or bags is the cost and functionality. Losano said that investing in compostables is worth it in the end.

Todd Kawaski, president of Maui Chemical & Paper Products, offered a business perspective from panel.

While he is not opposed to the bill, he told the committee to keep in mind how the alterations in plastic containers may affect small local business financially, the operations of manufacturers and food safety.

“I think we also need a robust composting facility before we can implement hard changes in the Maui County,” Kawaski said. “As we invest more into compostable products to replace the plastic products, you still need to face where we can have it composted.”

The plastic bag reduction bill became law in 2011, but Cochran’s bill would seek to amend it and “improve” it.

Changes include simplifying the definitions of plastic and reusable bags, as well as prohibit businesses from providing their customers with plastic checkout bags at any time, not just at the point of sale, for the purpose of transporting groceries or other goods.

The current bill exempts plastic bags to package loose items like fruit and vegetables, grains, candies, baked goods; bags to wrap frozen food or raw meats and fish; to transport prescription medications from pharmacies; to hold laundry; to sell in packages containing multiple bags intended for garbage or yard waste.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Richelle Thomson said that the committee should take a look at the full extensive list and file it down by deciding what items should or should not remain exempt.

Thomson also said that the corporation counsel discussed “expanding the prohibition to not only include businesses,” but to include all nonbusinesses, like nonprofits.

The committee also discussed options to reduce single-bag use, which could mean imposing a bag tax or an islandwide mandatory bag fee.

The enactment of the bag ordinance gave stores the option to charge or credit their customers up to 10 cents for not bringing or bringing their own grocery bags, respectively.

Honolulu has a 15-cent charge on paper, reusable and compostable bags.

“I think this is something we should look at from a countywide basis, but I also heard from testifiers, including the retail industry, that 10 cents is not enough,” said Council Chairwoman Kelly King. “It won’t change people’s behavior. It has to be at least 25 cents for it to change people’s behavior and I think that we have to look at some way of going a little bit broader than the grocery store bag . . . and going beyond the food industry.”

Kawaski said that a bag fee would make more sense than a store making its own or imposing a tax.

He added that overall, it’s a mindset that Maui residents will need to change.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the culture of Maui,” Kawasaki said. “I think we always just went to the grocery store and they would give you a bag for free and now we just assume when we go to the store. . . . So if we can just change that perspective a little bit that would help.”

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.