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Maui eyes Styrofoam ban


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POSTED: Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A hearing on whether to ban polystyrene products — popularly known as Styrofoam — is heading to the Maui County Council's Infrastructure Management Committee.

The committee hearing won't be scheduled until at least next month, according to chair Bill Medeiros.

“;This is another step in what I call the right direction,”; said Maui councilman Mike Victorino, who introduced the bill June 5. “;The reason I'm bringing this forward now is that a lot of these initiatives take a long time to come to fruition.”;

The bill comes 10 months after the Maui council banned conventional plastic carryout bags, which is to be implemented in 2011.

Maui's proposed Styrofoam ban also would take effect in 2011.

Styrofoam food containers, including carryout clamshells which are most popular for the ubiquitous plate lunch, are included, but coolers are exempt.

If passed, Maui would follow the heels of several California cities, including Palo Alto, San Francisco, and Millbrae, in banning polystyrene foam, which environmentalists say does not break down easily.

Palo Alto's City Council voted in April to ban polystyrene clamshells, plates and cups, beginning April 22, 2010, the next Earth Day.

“;It's very bad for our environment,”; said Victorino. “;It doesn't break down — 100 years from now, you'll still have it sitting in your landfill. If we don't make the changes today, tomorrow it will be more costly to develop new landfills.”;

Victorino said Styrofoam alternatives would cost between 6 to 13 percent more.

Styrophobia, a Honolulu nonprofit promoting compostable cornstarch plastic and bagasse products, offers clamshells for 22 to 25 cents apiece, which are now available at Long Drugs and Don Quijote through Diamond Head Distributors. Styrofoam clamshells cost from 12 to 15 cents apiece.

Richard Botti, president of the Hawaii Food Industry Association, opposes the bill.

“;If they pass it, the cost is going to be borne by their constituents,”; said Botti. “;It's as simple as that.”;

Botti said the ban could put local manufacturers out of business, and also would mean having to ship alternatives from the mainland. If Maui County had H-power, he said, they could burn it to make energy.

Maui-based distributor VIP Foodservice carries both polystyrene and compostable takeout containers.

President Nelson Okumura says many resorts prefer to use the compostable products, which cost significantly more, including cups, takeout boxes and cutlery. Polystyrene products, however, still make up most of this sales.

Lucienne de Naie, vice chair of Sierra Club Hawaii, supports the ban.

“;I've picked up tons of garbage, and a lot of it is Styrofoam based, especially at beach parks,”; said de Naie. “;It doesn't go anywhere. It breaks into pieces that go in the wind and the water where turtles and fish eat it.”;