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Hawaii Could Be The First State To Ban Most Plastics In Restaurants

Local businesses worry the strict policies would force them to close shop.
<strong>C</strong>ustomers line up at the Wiki Wiki Drive Inn takeout restaurant counter in Honolulu. Hawaii would be the fir
Customers line up at the Wiki Wiki Drive Inn takeout restaurant counter in Honolulu. Hawaii would be the first state to ban most plastics used at restaurants, if legislation lawmakers are considering is enacted.

Hawaii could soon be the first U.S. state to ban many disposable plastic products from the restaurant industry in an effort to protect the environment.

A pair of bills making their way through the state legislature would curtail the use of single-use plastics at restaurants and bars. Under one proposal, the state would outlaw the sale of styrofoam takeaway containers. The other would be much more dramatic, also targeting plastic utensils, stirring sticks, straws and drinking bottles.

“We have this reputation of setting the example for the world to follow, and that’s what we’re trying to do here,” state Sen. Mike Gabbard, who helped author the more far-reaching measure, told The Associated Press. “Our state can once again take the lead in protecting our environment.”

Gabbard, the father of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who is running for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, tried to pass a similarly dramatic proposal last year but it failed. He said in January he was reintroducing the measure to help stop the scourge of plastic in the oceans, and that if it failed to pass again he’d work to tout reusable alternatives to disposable objects.

“We know what that does to our beaches, our marine life and everything,” Gabbard told KITV, Hawaii’s local ABC affiliate.

The state has already taken dramatic steps to protect its oceans, including efforts to ban sunscreen with chemicals that can harm corals (although some scientists say that is only a small issue compared with climate change). Hawaii also effectively has a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags in grocery stores after every county independently passed legislation to do so.

Gabbard’s proposal and the other initiative that only targets foam containers have drawn some criticism from restaurant owners, who worry the increased price of eco-friendly products could drive them out of business.

“Ask yourself this ― will small restaurant owners be capable of taking another added cost? How would you feel if your favorite take-out restaurant that you’ve been going to for years, just permanently closed shop?” Eric Wong, the co-owner of a fast food restaurant on Oahu, wrote in testimony to lawmakers. “Approving this ban against Styrofoam would affect many small food operators around Hawai’i and may force us to close, thus I humbly ask that you vote against the ban.”

The AP notes that Gabbard’s proposal is still in early stages and some have said it would be too strict, noting that under the guidelines it could mean grocery stores couldn’t sell trash bags.

Other states have targeted plastic products in recent years. Maryland’s House of Delegates passed a measure to outlaw disposable foam products earlier this month that will head to the governor’s desk. And other major U.S. cities, including New York City, have banned the products within their jurisdictions.

This story is part of a series on plastic waste, funded by SC Johnson. All content is editorially independent, with no influence or input from the company.