Maui gives initial OK to limits on plastic foam containers

MarketsAssociated Press

Restaurants in Maui County would have to pack food in eco-friendly containers free of plastic foam under a measure that could be approved early next year.

Councilmembers decided at their last meeting in December to advance a measure that restricts the use and sale of plastic foam containers. It also bans the products at county events and facilities.

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Some businesses are supportive, while others express concerns over the cost and quality of alternative containers.

The measure allows some exemptions.

"We put in the word 'hardships,' and they can come in and apply for exemptions," Councilman Michael Victorino said.

He said work on the bill began six years ago, when the county first banned plastic bags.

"This would be the next step in what I call environmental changes that are needed in our islands," he said. "More importantly, it's a move to protect and enhance our marine life, because this is what Hawaii is all about."

The restaurant Tin Roof almost exclusively uses compostable food packaging and is "phasing out our current 1 percent" that remains, owner Janice Simeon said.

Maui News reported the council approved an amendment covering food packaged outside the county.

The change raised questions about potential violations to rules regarding interstate commerce.

Vice Chairman Don Guzman proposed the amendment and said it levels the playing field.

The measure says plastic foam containers have "significant negative impacts on the environment, contributes to the potential death of marine animals and avian populations through ingestion and is a suspected human carcinogen."

Corporation Counsel Patrick Wong said it may be difficult to defend the county against any potential legal challenges given the scientific evidence officials had on hand.

A second reading is needed before councilmembers make a final decision on the proposal. Approval early next year would put the measure into effect by July 2018.

Maui County would not be the first U.S. location with such a ban.

Over the summer, San Francisco enacted what environmentalists called the country's broadest, most comprehensive ban on Styrofoam and other polystyrene foam products, including shipping peanuts, plates and cups, and pool toys.

Los Angeles has a ban on foam food containers in government buildings. And Portland, Oregon, approved a ban on such products in restaurants in 1989.