Hawaii is actively considering a wide-ranging ban on single-use plastics in restaurants and government purchasing, but after passing the state Senate the measure hit a roadblock March 20 when lawmakers, in the face of more opposition, took out some of its toughest requirements.
The bill, which would make Hawaii the first state to ban many single-use plastics in restaurants, had passed the state Senate on a 23-1 vote earlier in March.
But after lengthy public comments on both sides, including many from restaurants saying it would raise prices, legislators in Hawaii's lower House hit the pause button and voted March 20 to take out some of the strictest provisions in favor of more dialogue.
They removed bans on single-use plastic bottles, utensils and polystyrene foam containers for businesses by 2022 and plastic bags by 2023, in restaurants and government offices, according to a summary on a state government website.
In its place, House lawmakers said they wanted a study group to develop a statewide policy on single-use plastics and work with businesses and others to address concerns about lack of suitable alternative products and health and safety concerns.
The House legislators did say they were still looking at banning those single-use plastics but postponed implementation to an "unspecified date."
The legislation remains alive and will next be considered by a House finance committee.
Ahead of the March 20 votes in other House committees, industry groups argued to lawmakers that alternatives to plastics could cost more and have the same or higher environmental impacts, and that state efforts should focus on more general waste reduction and recycling.
The American Chemistry Council, for example, said the Senate legislation "appears to be drafted under the false assumption that alternatives to these products are environmentally preferable."
ACC Senior Director of State Affairs Tim Shestek said in prepared comments to state legislators that PS foam cups weigh two to five times less than paper cups and require 50 percent less energy to produce.
And he argued that another alternative, compostable foodservice containers, can only biodegrade in an industrial composting facility, which Hawaii does not currently have.
In comments after the vote, Shestek said ACC was still awaiting more details on the changes. But he echoed earlier ACC comments against focusing on single-use plastics in favor of considering "all materials and technologies" around waste reduction.
"I'd say the committee took a thoughtful approach to these proposals, including the potential impact on local businesses," Shestek said. "I'm hopeful any future working group will look at how best to increase the recycling, recovery and composting of all materials so that any legislative proposal that may surface will actually reduce waste, rather than simply result in replacing one type of trash with another.