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Monday, December 31, 2018
Auditor: Styrofoam Ban Doesn't Reduce Litter
By News Release @ 3:13 PM :: 5789 Views :: Honolulu County, Environment, Small Business

Single—Use Polystyrene Food Containers and Plastic Bag Study

From Honolulu Auditor, December 18, 2018  

OmniTrak survey results: Business Segment and Resident Segment

Dear Council Chair Martin and Councilmembers:     December 19, 2018

A copy of our final report, Single—Use Polystyrene Food Containers and Plastic Bag Study, is attached. This study was conducted pursuant to City Council Resolution 18-35, CD1, which requested the city auditor to evaluate the use and impacts of single-use food service containers and single-use plastic bags. The resolution further requested a supplemental study on the potential financial and non-financial impacts of the city banning single-use food containers and single-use plastic bags by restaurants, lunch wagons, and other purveyors of meals and snacks.


The city council and the city have taken several actions to address improper disposal of food service containers and to prevent litter. In 2015, the city council passed Bill 10 that issued a total ban on all non-recyclable paper and non-biodegradable single-use plastic bags. In 2017, the city council passed Bill 59 that required all businesses to charge customers at the point of sale a minimum of 15 cents per re-usable, compostable plastic or recyclable paper bag.

The Department of Environmental Services (ENV) is responsible for planning and administering the city’s solid waste reduction and recycling programs. It also manages the city’s H-POWER waste-to energy facility.

Audit Results

Minimizing litter to keep our natural environment beautiful and safe from harm is an important community objective. To be successful, the city should pursue comprehensive methods rather than a simplistic ban on a single kind of litter/trash that is unlikely to effectively reduce the overall amount of litter and its harm to the environment.

There is general support among residents and businesses for a ban on single-use polystyrene (PS) food containers, even if it means food prices will increase as a result. However, a ban on single-use PS food containers will negatively impact certain classes of small foodservice businesses, who are not prepared to transition to alternate food containers. The ban may also disrupt certain business environmental advantages accruing from local manufacturing and distribution of PS food service items, which act to create economic efficiencies, lower prices and increase access for local businesses.

Any attempt to regulate the foodservice industry will impact a wide segment of Honolulu residents, largely in the form of price increases passed on to customers. Some impacts to certain vulnerable classes of residents need to be closely examined to prevent unnecessary effects and harms.

Despite product markings and claims about being compostable or recyclable, all single-use food service products collected by the Department of Environmental Services is taken to H-POWER and burned. There is no composting or recycling of food containers conducted locally.

There are various approaches to polystyrene material bans in the United States. We found over 60 expanded polystyrene foam bans in various cities and counties nationwide, with a majority in California. Most bans target foodservice establishments and retailers’ use of polystyrene containers for takeout foods. Other approaches included a complete plastic ban: government itself prohibiting purchases of plastic containers; self-monitoring of container inventories: and establishing protected areas where food containers were prohibited.

Polystyrene bans are not effective in reducing litter. Most jurisdictions with bans in place use recycling and composting as the primary waste management approach for diverting waste from the landfill. If waste is not recycled or composted, landfilled or littered, the critical issue is: will the waste degrade or decompose effectively? Common exemptions to polystyrene bans are granted for temporary economic hardship. Some polystyrene applications are excluded from the bans such as grocery meat trays, ice chests, and some prepackaged foods (e.g. ramen soups).

We found no examples of government incentives at the local level to promote transitions to green approaches or grants of business assistance in the form of tax exemptions, credits, or special development assistance. No examples were found at the city or county level. Most incentives are done at the state level to either promote new industries, or to promote innovation for environmental reasons (green manufacturing).

We would like to express our sincere appreciation for the cooperation and assistance provided us by the ENV managers and staff, its recycling program staff, and the many others who assisted us during this study. We also thank OmniTrak for surveying local businesses and residents and analyzing and projecting the survey results, We are available to meet with you and your staff to discuss the study results and to provide more information. If you have any questions, please call the auditor-in-charge, Wayne Kawamura or me at 768-3134.


Edwin S.W. Young, City Auditor

PDF: Single—Use Polystyrene Food Containers and Plastic Bag Study

PDF: Council Bill 92 (Styrofoam ban)

SA: Environmental groups dispute auditor’s study  (H-Power allows recycling without requiring participation in the rituals of the eco-religion, hence the problem.)  

SA Editorial: Move toward ban on polystyrene

HNN: City auditor: Banning foam containers wouldn’t reduce litter 

Big Q: Should polystyrene foam food containers be banned statewide, as was just done in Maui County?

Reality: Crichton: Environmentalism is a religion


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