Honolulu Cracks Down on Single-Use Plastics

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Public Domain. Wikimedia / U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service HQ – Marin debris litters a beach on Laysan Island in the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, where it washed ashore.

Hawaii's most populated island is implementing tough new rules for packaging.

The island of Honolulu has recently passed a ban on single-use plastics that is said to be one of the strictest in the country. Building on a plastic bag ban implemented in 2015, Honolulu City Council voted 7-2 in early December to ban food and beverages from being served in polystyrene containers and with disposable utensils or plastic straws.

From a report by U.S. News (via Associated Press):

"Food vendors would be prohibited from providing plastic forks, spoons, knives, straws or other utensils and plastic foam plates, cups and other containers beginning January 1 2021... The ban would add other plastic food ware and begin applying to non-food-purveying businesses starting January 1, 2022, officials said."

The bill has been in the works for some time and has been hotly protested by local restaurant and grocery store owners. They are concerned smaller businesses won't be able to afford the more expensive plastic-free packaging alternatives, and that removing plastic could jeopardize food safety.

The lawmakers took these concerns seriously and amended the bill (prior to passing) to accommodate them. Certain products will be exempt from the ban, including "prepackaged items such as musubi wraps, chip bags, bread bags, ice bags and plastic bags used for loose items including vegetables, ground coffee, raw fish and meat, and newspapers" (via Huffington Post).

Non-compliance comes with a stiff fine of $1,000 per day, but the bill states that exemptions are possible if non-plastic replacements cannot reasonably be found.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, are celebrating the win. The Hawaiian islands are famous for their beauty, and have been suffering from the deluge of plastic waste that comes not only from all their own over-packaged imported products, but washes up on their shores from faraway places. While the ban cannot solve the problem of foreign plastic being delivered by the ocean, it takes the obvious first step of dealing with excessive plastic in its own backyard. Well done, Hawaii.