Hawaii could soon be the first state in the US to ban many disposable plastic products from the restaurant industry in an effort to protect the environment.
A pair of bills making their way through the state legislature hope to curtail the use of single-use plastics at restaurants and bars. Under one proposal, the state would outlaw the sale of styrofoam takeaway containers. The other would be much more dramatic, also targeting plastic utensils, stirring sticks, straws and drinking bottles.
“We have this reputation of setting the example for the world to follow, and that’s what we’re trying to do here,” state Sen. Mike Gabbard, who helped author the more far-reaching measure, told The Associated Press. “Our state can once again take the lead in protecting our environment.”
Gabbard, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, tried to pass a similarly dramatic proposal last year but it failed. He said in January he was reintroducing the measure to help stop the scourge of plastic in the oceans, and that if it failed to pass again he’d work to tout reusable alternatives to disposable objects.
“We know what that does to our beaches, our marine life and everything,” Gabbard told KITV, Hawaii’s local ABC affiliate.
Hawaii has already taken dramatic steps to protect its oceans, including efforts to ban sunscreen with chemicals that can harm corals (although some scientists say that is only a small issue compared to climate change). It also effectively has a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags in grocery stores after every county independently passed legislation to do so.
Gabbard’s proposal and the other initiative that only targets foam containers have already drawn some criticism from local restaurant owners who worry the increased price of eco-friendly products could drive them out of business.
“Ask yourself this – will small restaurant owners be capable of taking another added cost? How would you feel if your favourite take-out restaurant that you’ve been going to for years, just permanently closed shop?” Eric Wong, the co-owner of a fast food restaurant on Oahu, wrote in testimony to lawmakers. “Approving this ban against Styrofoam would affect many small food operators around Hawaii and may force us to close, thus I humbly ask that you vote against the ban.”
The AP notes that Gabbard’s proposal is still in early stages and some have said it would be too strict, noting that under the guidelines it could mean grocery stores couldn’t sell trash bags to consumers.