Maui Discussion

Testifiers Suggest Delayed Implementation of Plastic Disposable Foodware Ban

By Wendy Osher
July 16, 2021, 1:30 PM HST
* Updated July 18, 7:15 AM
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Maui restaurants and distributors continued to express supply chain concerns and economic challenges compounded by pandemic impacts when testifying on an ordinance amendment that outlines a ban on single-use plastic foodware in Maui County. The restrictions were already approved by the council, and are mandated to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022.

The Department of Environmental Management, Environmental Protection & Sustainability Division held the hearing Wednesday to gather input on wording and content of the ordinance amendment, but most who testified were concerned about the ability to comply with the actual start date, and economic impacts.

Nathon Holder, owner of VigiLatte Maui on Front Street in Lahaina was among those who testified saying, “We were the most affected group on the island… our economic impact was so great.” He said viable alternative materials for his small business to meet the mandate would result in a 40% markup on goods. “Fourteen percent would be breaking the bank for most people,” he said, calling the potential economic impact, “absolute insanity,” “unrealistic,” and “unfeasible,” given he added stressors endured during the pandemic.

He argued that the rule was being applied to a very small targeted group of business owners, and contends that larger retailers would not suffer the same fate. “You’re taking the largest problem and trying to put it on the backs of the smallest groups affected by COVID-19,” said Holder, who asked that the amendment be tabled until at least 2024.

Maui Now file photo.

While a ban on polystyrene foam food service containers has been in effect on Maui for two and a half years, the ordinance is being amended to also include foodware such as plastic utensils and straws. Come January, both must be non-plastic and will be provided by request only at the point of sale if the current proposal is finalized.

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The department notes that the ban will affect Maui County food providers that serve food or beverages in plastic disposable foodware after it has been ordered, as well as businesses that sell these items for use.

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“As the County of Maui moves forward with implementation of the ordinance, it is important to hear from the businesses that will be responsible for complying with the legislation,” said Tamara Farnsworth, Division Manager with the County of Maui Department of Environmental Management, Environmental Protection & Sustainability Division.

She said that while Wednesday’s testimony was meant to address only the proposed administrative rules, it was “enlightening” to hear about the supply chain challenges that were brought up.

“The law was passed before the global pandemic and the unforeseen impacts of COVID-19 must be considered. We must at the same time consider the intent of County Council, which unanimously passed this legislation, and the devastating impact single-use plastics have on the environment. The Department of Environmental Management will be taking all of the testimony into consideration to ensure the feasibility of compliance when the law becomes effective,” said Farnsworth in an email communication to Maui Now.

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She noted that more than 1,700 letters of notice had been mailed to food service providers who may be affected, informing them of the upcoming changes, which apply to single-use food ware plastics provided to customers at the point of sale for the purpose of food consumption.

The department noted that a final decision on the proposed ordinance amendment would be made by Aug. 13, 2021, and that personnel will take the oral and written testimony received under consideration and advisement. A final version of rules will be published within 45 days and approval is subject to mayor’s consideration.

Supply chain delays were also noted by businesses that provide product to resorts, hotels and restaurants.

Nelson Okumura, president of VIP Foodservice asked that the effective date be moved from Jan. 1, 2022, to Jan. 1 2024. “As you know tourism has returned with a vengeance,” he said, resulting in a similar surge in demand for product. According to Okumura, current shipping lead times can run four months out, noting a major shortage of polyactic acid (PLA) and other components used in the creation of eco-products like cups, lids, cutlery, straws and containers.

Okumura said extending the deadline two years out, would provide time for the current supply chain issues to work themselves out and “reset the clock,” given pandemic impacts.

Maui Chemical & Paper Products. PC: Wendy Osher (7.16.21)

Todd Kawasaki, president of Maui Chemical & Paper Products, also provided testimony from a distribution standpoint, saying shipping shortages have been heavily impacting the company’s ability to bring in product, with the majority of PLA coming from China.

“We’re already at five months now…. Transitioning plastic is something that we had been planning for,” but, Kawasaki said, the reality is that the pricing will trickle down to residents. “It will be much more expensive than the current products, and with unavailability it will be even steeper,” he said.

Douglas Tam, who works for broker and a supplier for many distributors in the state, said there’s a major shortage of PLA and compostable products. “It will be unrealistic not only for Oʻahu, but Maui also to sustain the demand that we’re seeing in the industry,” he said, suggesting a one to two year extension. “The shipping delays, quite candidly, it’s not getting any better,” noting he has not seen the kind of delays currently happening, in the 40 years he’s been in the business.

Gary Saldana who testified on behalf of the Pacific Whale Foundation sought clarification and consistency of word usage throughout the document to avoid misinterpretation, confusion and implementation impacts. One example he used was the identification of products as “designed for one time use,” noting that clarification could avoid an instance where someone might interpret the language to mean that it may be permissible to use containers that are still disposable, but could be used 2-3 times as opposed to a single use product.

One of the biggest challenges for Patrick Dours of the Rodeo General Store in Makawao, was securing containers during the pandemic. “We want to be away from plastic as much as possible, but the ability to get compostable containers has been a major challenge (aside from cost), and having the supply chain so you can plan what you can serve, has been one of the major challenges of running the store,” said Dours, noting that some containers don’t fit each other, which just creates more waste.

“We want to get rid of plastic too, but have to have a plan in place other than saying you can’t use it and will get fined if you do,” said Dours. He suggested that the county come up with some kind of assistance for the supply chain so that businesses could “reach the same goal together,” without hurting small businesses in the process.

Kim Robello, merchandising manager for Minit Stop Stores on Maui and Hawaiʻi Island echoed the sentiment of other testifiers saying, “Though the law makes sense and is great for environment, the pandemic is a situation that has caused a lot of issues when it comes to supply… At the end of the day, if the supply is there and we can comply we will.”

“You have to stay in business today to be viable for tomorrow,” said Robello. He explained that while he has an exemption on the pre-package side, the company also does over the counter service and would need to restructure how the company does business in order to remain in compliance. He suggested that the county, “look at the rules to specify a delay of the ordinance, until you can right that ship and until the supply is available and at a reasonable cost.”

Jason Higa with Zippy’s restaurants, said the pandemic impacts to the restaurant industry have been devastating and worried that the cost would be too much for smaller businesses to bear. “It will impact bottom line and survival of restaurants, especially the smaller ones. The fact is that the mom-and-pop restaurants are the ones that will struggle with obtaining supply, and at the pricing that they will need to survive,” said Higa.

Business owners seeking additional information on the upcoming ban can find more information at the county’s plastic free website.

Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served more than 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.
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