- A bill has been proposed in Hawaii that would ban plastic foam containers at fast food and full-service restaurants. If the legislation passes, it would make Hawaii the first U.S. state to implement such a ban, according to the Associated Press.
- A second bill has also been introduced in the state that would prohibit restaurants, stores, wholesalers and government agencies from distributing and using plastic drink bottles, utensils, stirring sticks, bags and straws.
- As of Wednesday, committees reviewing the two bans have recommended to pass with amendments the more stringent ban while committees suggested deferring the ban focused on foam containers.
That Hawaii would lead the way on this issue is no surprise — the state has mandated renewable energy use and prohibited sunscreen ingredients that harm coral. Because of this, activists think there is a chance for at least one of these measures to pass, according to the Associated Press.
It's no secret that the planet has a major plastics problem. About 8 million metric tons of plastic waste enter the ocean every year, according to The Guardian. At this pace, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation predicts there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050. Hawaii State Senator Mike Gabbard told fellow state legislators that that 95% of plastic packaging is thrown out after use, while 500 million plastic straws are trashed every day in the U.S. Hawaii especially has a big dog in the fight — Kamilo Point on the Big Island, for example, is located on the path of the North Pacific Gyre — a rotating ocean current that draws trash from across the Pacific Ocean. Accordingly, Kamilo Beach has earned the nickname "Plastic Beach."
Although this would indicate an urgent need for change, that doesn't mean it will be cheap or easy for restaurant operators. Cost implications are material; restaurant operator Eric S.S. Wong told the AP, for example, that a package of 200 foam boxes cost $23, versus $57 for biodegradable boxes. Wong said he'd have to pass the costs onto consumers, especially as he navigates other headwinds such as labor and food costs.
That doesn't mean costs on plastics alternatives will stay high, however. Other states and cities have adopted some type of plastics ban, while last year more than 60 countries introduced legislation aimed at single-use plastic reduction. Maryland is currently considering a ban on foam containers and could become the first state to pass a statewide ban if Hawaii's foam ban doesn't pass. Last year, California became the first state to ban full-service restaurants from automatically giving out plastic straws, according to the Associated Press. Seattle, San Francisco and other cities have also banned some single-use plastics.
Meanwhile, major restaurant companies like Starbucks, Wendy's, McDonald's and KFC have pledged to reduce plastics and help develop alternative options through their partnerships with NextGen Consortium, a multi-industry, multi-year initiative created to advance food packaging alternatives. Collectively, these efforts should drive the costs down sooner than later.
For now, however, the question is whether or not the consumers would be willing to pay more for packaging alternatives. Chances are good they just might. A report from Nielsen shows that 81% of global consumers believe companies should help improve the environment and about 70% of North Americans say it is "extremely or very important" that companies implement programs to do so. The momentum, in other words, seems to be on Hawaii's side.