By Cory Harden
A Hawai’i County Council member found polystyrene, popularly known as “Styrofoam,” inside a freshly caught fish. A Kona resident gathered over 4,500 signatures on her petition to ban single-use expanded polystyrene containers. Dozens of citizens testified at multiple meetings to support a County polystyrene ban, and few objected. The Kona Sheraton Resort uses over 100,000 non-polystyrene takeout containers a year, at minimal extra cost. Several hundred local
governments in the U.S. have banned polystyrene.
Despite the overwhelming evidence, four Council members (including the “foam fisher”) killed a bill that would have banned polystyrene take-out containers.
Two years ago, polystyrene measures also failed on Maui. In the State legislature, such bills have failed several times over the past three years.
Why ban polystyrene? According to the National Toxicology Program and National Research Council, the organic compound styrene can “reasonably be anticipated to be a human carcinogen” and it can leach out of polystyrene food containers.
Polystyrene supporters talk about recycling, but New York City couldn’t figure out any cost-effective way to recycle single-use expanded polystyrene containers. (2)
Polystyrene waste “…breaks into little pieces and is nearly impossible to clean up.” (3)
Polystyrene “is one of the primary components of marine debris”. (3) It can poison animals or cause them to starve with a belly full of indigestible material.
Lots of polystyrene ends up in landfills. There it “remains intact for hundreds of years and releases pollutants…” (4) Organic material in the waste stream may be rendered unusable for anaerobic digestion or composting, after polystyrene foam waste breaks into tiny pieces and mixes in. (5)
There are alternatives to polystyrene: double-walled paper, recyclable polyproplylene, and containers made from potatoes, corn, bamboo, and wood. There’s mushroom packaging– put materials like cotton and rice hulls into molds, inject them with mushroom spores, and let them grow for a week or so. Last year the city of Seattle said the number of compostable packaging products jumped from about 70 to about 700 in four years. (4)
Back in Hawai’i County, ban supporters remain undaunted. They have compiled a list of Foam Free Vendors at docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1ZCWHvKHtJpptUZo3u2QBxQ2oElTV7ixLwtQ0FIyCcgQ/edit#gid=399269616.
1 Will polystyrene cancer concerns prompt brands to change? The Guardian, August 27, 2014,
2 New York City Bans Expanded Polystyrene Food Containers, Chemical & Engineering News, January 12, 2015, http://cen.acs.org/articles/93/web/2015/01/New-York-City-Bans-Expanded.html, accessed February 2016.
3 Serving Up a Better School Plate, Natural Resources Defense Council website, http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/mbrown/serving_up_a_better_school_pla.html, accessed February 2016
4 New York restaurants scramble for alternatives after city bans foam packaging, The Guardian, January 22, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/jan/22/new-york-styrofoam-ban-foam-packaging-food-restaurants, accessed February 2016