Hawaii Restaurant Association asks to delay single-use plastics ban due to COVID-19

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Hawaii Restaurant Association is asking the city to push back the ban on single-use plastics that is set to take effect on Jan. 1. Restaurant owners agree that the ban is important to help protect the environment, but worry that the coronavirus pandemic, which is already driving up costs, will make it even harder to effect the change.

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When the law banning single-use plastics, also known as Bill 40, was signed in December of 2019, no one in Hawaii had ever heard of coronavirus. Officials certainly didn’t expect a global pandemic to cripple Hawaii’s economy. Now, Oahu restaurant owners say they just want a little more time to prepare.

The single-use law is one of the most comprehensive in the country and it bans nearly all takeout plastics over the next two years. The ban phases out the use of plastic bags, polystyrene food-ware, plastic containers, lids and single-use plastic service-ware like straws and utensils.

Hawaii Restaurant Association Legislative Lead and McDonald’s Franchise owner Victor Lim said COVID-19 threw a “monkey wrench” into everything.

“When Bill 40 got passed, the intention was very noble. We are going to be super green here in Honolulu,” Lim said. “It’s a totally different world than it was a year and a half ago. The restaurant industry has gotten whiplash all over the place. And you hear about more restaurants closing every single day.”

Lim said the 90-day grace period would give restaurants more time to comply and to apply for exemptions. The original timeline was pushed back due to a community hearing delayed until Nov. 30. He said because of that delay, restaurant owners can’t even apply for an exemption until December. Lim adds that it would probably take longer than a month to get an application approved once it’s submitted.

“We, as an industry, just want to make sure that we are not being penalized for not being able to meet a deadline. You know because if you look at the provisions and fines they can start at a thousand dollars a day. That will throw a lot of people out of business,” Lim explained.

Cinnamon’s Restaurants general partner Puna Nam said they have already switched to biodegradable take-out containers.

He said changing-out the plastic bags and utensils they’re still using will likely add 25 cents per takeout to their bottom line.

“And that adds up quite a bit to our existing costs right now, which is, you know, tight to begin with.” Nam shared.

The grace period would also give restaurants time to use their existing inventory and to find suppliers.

“When these mandates come out, there’s not too many vendors or manufacturers that offer these products. So we’re kind of limited as to our choices and committed to whatever prices we may have to pay in order to you know, meet the requirements of the law,” Nam said.

City Council Chair Ann Kobayashi said she is willing to discuss this in their committee meetings next week but there was some push-back from council members that backed the bill.

“I’ll see if I can get something on one of the meetings where we can have a discussion about this,” Kobayashi assured. “We can always hold special meetings, because for me, this is an emergency for a lot of these small businesses. It’s make or break for them.”

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