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Honolulu mulls foam, plastic food container ban

May 30, 2014 - 12:05am

HONOLULU — The Honolulu City Council is considering a bill that would ban foam and plastic food containers now widely used to serve plate lunches.

Legislation introduced by Councilman Stanley Chang on Wednesday would require plates, cups, bowls, trays and other food containers to be compostable, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Current law allows restaurants and other food vendors to use foam, or polystyrene, containers as long as they’re not made with chlorofluorocarbons.

Those containers, however, still contain the carcinogen styrene, which does not break down completely. This means the containers leave behind foam bits that are a threat to endangered species that may try to consume them, Chang said.

The bill defines “compostable” as materials that “will break down into usable compost in a safe and timely manner without leaving any toxic residue.” Paper products would be OK.

L&L Hawaiian Barbecue co-founder Eddie Flores Jr. says the proposal is an unnecessary intrusion that will create extra burdens on mom and pop eateries trying to squeeze out a living.

L&L has about 195 franchises globally, 40-45 of them on Oahu, Flores said. L&Ls in San Francisco and other municipalities already must abide by compostable-only container laws.

Flores said the compostable containers cost about 40 cents, versus 13 cents for a standard foam container.

“The biggest problem is when we put gravy, it goes right through” if left to sit for a while, Flores said of some of the containers.

Zippy’s President Paul Yokota said the casual dining and fast-food chain won’t take a position on the bill until it can study it further.

Noel Pietsch Shaw, the local franchisee of the Wahoo’s Fish Tacos chain, said she and her sister made the decision to use compostable food containers in 2008, about two years after they opened their Ward Avenue restaurant.

The company charges 25 cents for orders requiring the items, but not on those needing only paper such as tacos, sandwiches and burritos, she said. The restaurant has received “a handful” of complaints in that time while most people have been receptive, she said.

Customers are told they have options, including dining at the restaurant or ordering items that don’t require the more expensive packaging, she said.

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