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Could Hawai‘i’s plate lunches go green?

New Senate bill aims to ban Styrofoam

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Styrofoam Plate Lunch

Styrofoam containers pose negative consequences for the environment and ourselves.

Senate Bill 2498 seeks to ban all polystyrene, or Styrofoam, containers in Hawai‘i by January 2019, spelling the end of the Hawai‘i staple of one scoop of rice and one scoop of mac salad as a plate lunch in its recognizable packaging of a white Styrofoam container. The bill swiftly passed through congress since its introduction on Jan. 19, 2018. It has garnered the support of environmentalists but also received heavy opposition from small businesses who fear the increased cost of compostable packaging alternatives.

While businesses see it as a possible economic hardship in the present, the potential ban on polystyrene is a long overdue step forward for the state government toward a more sustainable, healthier and profitable future.

Sustainability calls for reform

This cheap, lightweight and sturdy material has been the packaging of choice for years without concern over the externalities of its usage. But what environmentalists hope is that this ban will allow for reformation that has been long overdue.The impact of polystyrene on the environment has been found to be the second most detrimental to the planet in regard to its energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and total environmental effect. The packages used for a single plate lunch can last up to a million years with its remnants making up about 30 percent of the landfills in the US alone, according to

Though the optimum replacement to the single-use Styrofoam package would be a reusable one, there are still better options to the non-biodegradable foam, such as natural plant fiber, sugarcane or recycled paper.

A threat to the health of all species, including us

Styrene is a major component of all polystyrene foam containers.  It is a known carcinogen (cancer causing substance) to animals. According to research published in the Oxford Journals on Mutagenesis, scientists have sufficient evidence that exposure and consumption of styrene has carcinogenic effects on experimental animals, often impairing the central and peripheral nervous systems.

From this finding, scientists have also concluded that these chemicals are carcinogenic to humans as well. Workers in Styrofoam factories have reported an influx of unexplained lymphatic cancers that scientists attribute to their abnormally high exposures to styrene. On a smaller scale, common exposure to styrene from the seeping of the chemicals into our food through the Styrofoam packaging has been connected with damage to the central nervous system.

For the sake of profits

More often than not, Styrofoam finds its way littered on streets, mountains and into the ocean, in large part owing to the success of the tourism industry. These packages that grow to be abundant eyesores take away from a beautiful hike or a peaceful paddle, reminding us that our impact on the environment reaches even the seemingly untouched places.

With 9 million visitors to the state annually that make the state the vast majority of its money, Hawai‘i must preserve its land in order to protect its capital.

Opposition from small businesses and large corporations

Though there is overwhelming evidence that supports the ban on polystyrene, some Hawai‘i food corporations vehemently oppose the bill because they fear the higher costs of biodegradable packaging. Small businesses argue that their livelihoods will be impacted the most from this bill, with some fearing that these higher costs will drive them out of business.

The Hawaii Restaurant Association, Hawaii Food Industry Association and the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii are few of the large corporations that point to a reform in waste management rather than a ban on polystyrene, arguing that the few composting facilities in Hawai‘i would not be able to handle the influx of containers.

An overdue yet exemplary ordinance

Though this bill should have been passed long ago, Congress’ decision to keep this bold bill alive is a testament to Hawai‘i’s concern and respect for the land. If the bill continues to garner the support of state politicians, there is hope that Hawai‘i can set an example for the rest of the states to follow in its footsteps in order to create a brighter and compostable future.