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Hawaii’s Largest City Passes the Biggest Plastics Ban Yet

By Cassie Shortsleeve

12.10.19

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Hawaii’s mid-Pacific location means it’s well positioned to collect pollution from the ocean.

Photo by Preecha Poolkasem/Shutterstock

Hawaii’s mid-Pacific location means it’s well positioned to collect pollution from the ocean.

Oahu is doing away with plastic utensils, food containers, straws, and more.

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Hawaii is a lot of things: a tropical paradise, an oasis of outdoor activities, a dream vacation destination, and—as far as states go—an environmental leader. 

In 2015, Hawaii enacted a statewide ban on plastic bags at grocery stores. Two years later, the state’s governor signed a bill adopting the goals of the Paris climate agreement. Then in May 2018, state legislators passed a bill banning the sale of sunscreens containing the ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate, which can damage precious coral reefs. 

Now, the city council of HonoluluHawaii’s biggest city, where about 70 percent of the state’s residents live—has passed Bill 40, a ban on single-use plastics, including utensils, straws, and Styrofoam containers, that will apply to the entire island of Oahu. 

Once the law goes into full effect in 2022, food vendors won’t be allowed to supply these items to customers, and businesses that don’t follow the rules could face fines of up to $1,000 a day. (There are, it’s worth noting, some plastic items that are exempt from the bill, including musubi wraps; chip, ice, and bread bags; as well as plastic bags for vegetables, ground coffee, fish, meat, and newspapers.) 

Hawaii’s middle-of-the-Pacific location means it’s well positioned to collect pollution from the ocean; plastics from the bustling food industry often coat Oahu’s streets and water. 

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Of course, Oahu is not the only Hawaiian island negatively affected by plastic: The Big Island’s Kamilo Beach(aka “Trash Beach”) is known for being covered with plastic pollution. But while Maui, Molokai, and the Big Island have already banned foam containers, they haven’t touched plastic. And although more than half of the states in this country have passed or are considering measures to limit single-use plastics (airlines, cruise ships, and hotels are phasing them out, too), Bill 40 is one of the strictest bans of its kind in the United States (not to mention the islands). It could be an inspiration for other cities and states to take a firmer line on the topic.

“This is my contribution to mālama honua (care for the Earth),” Honolulu city council member Joey Manahan, who originally proposed the bill, said in a statement. “It is no longer mine, but everyone’s because we are talking about the well-being of our ʻāina, our oceans, and our planet.”

>>Next: Plan Your Trip With AFAR’s Guide to Hawaii

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