Disposable Food Ware Ordinance to Take Effect

Picture of a foam food container

By: J. S.

A new ban on plastic utensils and foam disposable containers will be going into effect this month for the city and county of Honolulu. Ordinance 19-30 (Bill 40), was originally intended to take effect on January 1, 2021. The rollout of the ordinance was postponed 90 days due to the current hardships Hawaii restaurants and businesses are facing surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the new rules, businesses will no longer be allowed to provide plastic utensils, certain plastic bags, and disposable plastic and foam take out containers to customers, in most circumstances. The first phase of the ordinance went into effect April 1, and the second phase will go into effect at the start of 2022.

The ban on disposable dishware and utensils was originally introduced in 2019. The bill states that the intention of the ban is to reduce waste, including the overall amount of disposable plastic ending up in Hawaii’s oceans. Plastic waste is front of mind for Hawaii as it focuses on reducing its carbon footprint by 2030. According to the ordinance, a significant portion of marine debris, estimated to be 80%, originates on land, primarily as escaped refuse and litter in urban runoff. The debris and runoff into the ocean contaminates water and marine life, and those pollutants eventually make their way back to humans who consume seafood.

The city and county of Honolulu also hope to improve waste management through the new measure. The bill states that “reduction of the amount of non-degradable and non-recyclable waste that enters the waste stream is consistent with the City’s proposed Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan, which aims to reduce per capita waste generation by 25% by 2030 and to reduce carbon emissions from the waste stream by substantially reducing or eliminating carbon-based single-use plastics and polystyrene by 2030.  These measures are also consistent with the 2030 solid waste reduction goals set forth by the State-level Aloha+ Challenge, to which Honolulu is a signatory, which include to “support changes in design, material use, and manufacturing that reduce waste and toxicity” and to “significantly reduce the annual generation of solid waste.” Through this measure, the city and county intend to protect human safety and welfare, and to improve environmental quality on the island, in the neighboring marine environment, and globally.”

As the new rule takes effect, food establishments and businesses will be looking for new ways to provide utensils and containers for customers. Utensils and dishes made from wood, corn and recycled materials are currently on the market at different prices. The new ordinance will call for vendors to only provide disposable utensils upon request, stating that food vendors may only provide or distribute disposable service ware for prepared food or for a beverage upon the request or affirmative response of a customer or person being provided the prepared food or beverage, or in a self-service area or dispenser.

Alongside utensils and disposable dishes, plastic straws will also be prohibited, though the new rules allow for certain uses of plastic straws for facilities such as hospitals. Certain types of plastic bags are still allowed to be used, including handless bags used for fresh produce at grocery stores. Plastic bags used to protect newspapers for home delivery are also exempt from the rules. 

In the first phase of the new rules, city facilities will be prohibited from selling or using foam containers. As of next year businesses will not be able to use polystyrene foam and disposable food service ware, and food vendors will not be allowed to serve food items in foam containers. An exception to foamware is made where raw meats and seafoods are concerned. Both raw meats and prepackaged, shelf stable foods may still utilize foam containers. The bill allows for businesses to apply for limited exemptions from the listed rules, providing they meet the requirements listed in the ordinance.