The U.S. state Hawaii is continually ranked among the most beautiful places in the world, but locals know that their beaches and fragile ecosystems face increasing threats from plastic pollution. According to the Hawaii State Department of Transportation, plastic bags and polystyrene or “Styrofoam” are the top two contributors to the waste stream.
Now the Hawaii State Legislature is considering a bill that would ban polystyrene containers from eateries in the state. If signed into law, the ban would take effect Jan. 1, 2018.
About 80 percent of food vendors in Hawaii use polystyrene for takeout, estimates Doorae Shin, Plastic Free Hawaii Program Manager for the Kōkua Hawaiʻi Foundation. “These containers are designed to be used for a few minutes, but they will last hundreds of years in the natural environment.”
Polystyrene is lightweight and easily flies out of trash bins and landfills, where it breaks apart into little pieces and is often mistaken for food by marine animals. Polystyrene foam leaches a byproduct—styrene—into land and water, and the EPA has established styrene as a possible human carcinogen.
Hawaii does incinerate a portion of plastic waste, but this approach significantly impacts the environment. Burning plastic releases potent greenhouse gasses, and according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, burning polystyrene emits even more carbon dioxide equivalent than other plastics. Less than 1 percent of polystyrene is recycled in the U.S. and zero percent is recycled locally in Hawaii.
“Banning polystyrene foodservice is a no-brainer because it is an unnecessary and unsustainable product,” explains Shin. “The convenience of using foam does not outweigh the many consequences. A polystyrene ban is a low-hanging fruit to begin mitigating the issue of plastic pollution in Hawaii.”