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Foam No More: Mayor Arakawa Signs Bill to Restrict Foam Containers

Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa signed Bill 127 into law on Monday relating to restricting the use and sale of polystyrene foam containers in Maui County.

The law is set to go into effect on Dec. 31, 2018.

“It gives me great pleasure to sign into law this ban on foam polystyrene food service containers, as it furthers the environmental protections for our community that we first enacted when we signed the plastic bag ban into law back in 2011,” Mayor Arakawa said in a communication to the County Council. “There was a lot of research that went into crafting this bill, and for many restaurants and food serving establishments, pricing was an issue.  The bottom line is that right now, there is no product out there that is cheaper than polystyrene containers.  At least, not yet.

“However, since this law does not go into effect until 2019, I believe there should be plenty of time for manufacturers, distributors and retailers who buy, sell and use takeout food containers to adjust to the new market.”

In the end, Mayor Arakawa said “the benefits outweigh any of the perceived inconveniences to our community.”

The mayor pointed out several concerns which he hoped the council would consider and potentially take up before the law goes into effect including:

  • “Was there a thorough discussion on the subject of fines?  The ordinance refers to Section 19.530.030 of the Maui County Code regarding fines and penalties, but as I read it, this would mean that each day of a violation incurs a $1,000 fine.  This seems excessive, especially for some of our “mom and pop” stores.”
  • “There seems to be no exclusion of imported, out of state products.  Although I realize the council did not want to put the burden squarely upon local businesses, there could be some unintended consequences here.  Items such as instant ramen products, which many families buy regularly and in large quantities, could be affected, since the ban is against foam containers no matter where the food is packaged.  I think the council should address this, as it could affect our lower income families.”
  • “Finally, there seems to be no companion bill which sets out provisions for hiring any new personnel needed to enforce this new law.  I don’t foresee this as being a huge problem, as the law is complaint driven, and since we enacted the plastic bag ban there have [been] a little more than a dozen complaints for the Department of Environmental Management to investigate.  The first ear of the plastic bag ban was the busiest, with 14 complaints, 4 of which required us to give out warning notices.  However, circumstances might be different with this ban, and the department needs to be able to ask for more resources easily if they get a slew of complaints to which they need to respond.”

Under the law, food providers shall not sell, use, provide or offer the use of polystyrene foam food service containers.  The containers shall not be sold, used provided or offered for use at any County facility, County-authorized concession, County-sponsored or County permitted event or program.  The law also states that polystyrene foam food service containers shall not be offered for sale or sold in the county.

There are some exemptions outlined.  The law does not apply to polystyrene foam food containers used for raw or butchered meats, poultry, fish or eggs unless provided for consumption without further food preparation such as sashimi and poke. Polystyrene foam coolers and ice chests specifically designed and manufactured for multiple re-use are also exempt from the law, as are foam blocks or pieces used as protective packaging during shipping.

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