County Council Update

Recently an issue came before our County Council concerning polystyrene foam, commonly referred to as Styrofoam. A concern was raised with some, mistakenly believing I was not supporting the ban on polystyrene foam. I want to assure you that I am very much an environmentalist and deeply concerned about our island and county’s future. Hawaii has been my family’s home for many generations and I want its success for generations to come.

Though I completely agree with the intent of Bill 13, I am troubled with the language in which the bill was originally written. My concern is that we will do a little something that may grab headlines but has very little effect truly on the intent of removing Styrofoam from our environment.

The way the original bill has been presented, it primarily eliminates the Styrofoam food containers in our county. It affects retail packaging in the grocery store as well, however it does not prohibit importation of anything packaged outside our county with Styrofoam. Very conceivably, something could be packaged on Oahu and shipped to us in Styrofoam.

Another aspect is the packaging of durable goods with Styrofoam. Again, with products coming from outside of the county, we have no jurisdiction yet all the Styrofoam still ends up in our landfills. From an environmental management perspective, this is a large concern. By using this ban as written, how much will it truly impact the removal of Styrofoam? Currently, we have no information on this and Bill 13 does not address this.

Solid waste management as a whole needs to be considered. Managing the Big Island is more like managing a small continent, rather than a county somewhere on the mainland. Flows need to be managed; food, imports, exports, garbage, etc. The concept of using biodegradable disposable containers is great, but unless we are geared to deal with them they will still end up in our landfill. The tonnage going into these landfills doesn’t vary. I was given one reference that a West Coast city who implemented a Styrofoam ban saw an increase of solid waste going into their landfills. Is this accurate? It certainly needs investigation. Bill 13 as originally written also references the ban in conjunction with a functional composting facility. We do not have that, and in the recent news it does not appear that will be forthcoming in the near future.

One of the arguments in the past against the band of Styrofoam has been cost. I have spoken to constituents who use Styrofoam in retail sales; pick up lunch, case ready packaging in grocery stores, etc. and although that is a concern, is not really a driver. It more comes down to a competitive edge in their marketing as opposed to packaging coming from outside of the county. Depending on the price point of what they are selling, non-Styrofoam packaging may or may not affect that price point. All of them support the intent of the ban. It is the application of how we get there that is more of the concern.

There also appears to be some procedural concerns in passing this bill as originally written. There is a process in place that does not appear to have been followed, yet simple enough to correct if we take care of it now. As we have seen in our state legislation, following the process is important.

On a final note, I am troubled by the exemptions potentially allowed by the original writing of Bill 13. As an example, and as I understand, the county government itself and its facility users could potentially exempt itself from this ban. That bothers me. If the county wants to implement such a ban, we must be the guiding example.

To summarize, I do support the intent of the bill in the removal of Styrofoam from our use. I believe that this bill should have been held in committee to allow us to finish doing our homework. To borrow from another council member’s statement, “good information will help us make good decisions.”

I hope this sheds some light on my position on the original submission of Bill 13, and explains my thought process and vote. For all of my decisions, I weigh the cultural, environmental and economic impact on our county. Doing anything less I believe is shortsighted.

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