HONOLULU (KHON2) — The ban on single-use plastics and polystyrene containers will take effect on Oahu in less than six months, but it’s been in place on other islands for years. Restaurant owners there said they are still having issues.
“It just, it breaks down,” explained Les Tomita, owner of Da Kitchen restaurant on Maui.
That’s the biggest challenge restaurants deal with on a daily basis using paper and biodegradable products. Of course, you want them to break down but not when you are still eating food out of them.
Da Kitchen is a popular local-style restaurant in Kihei. The polystyrene ban has been in place there since Dec. 31, 2018.
Tomita said when they put in rice, mac salad, hamburger gravy, which Hawaii food is all about, the paper containers are difficult to work with.
“When you get to the bottom of the container, it breaks down,” Tomita explained. “The rice sticks to the bottom of that container, and then the cabbage, and you don’t want to be, you know, scraping something that it almost feels like you’re pulling part of the plate out.”
Starting on Sept. 5, the ban will take effect in Honolulu. Many restaurants on Oahu have already made the switch.
For places like Zippy’s, using paper bowls for saimin and soups isn’t ideal according to Kevin Yim, Zippy’s Vice President of Marketing.
“With liquid and hot temperatures, it’s really difficult,” he said. “We’re always looking for better alternatives, whether that will be to hold the liquid better, keep it warmer, perform better.”
That problem led Tomita to remove ramen and saimin from his menu all together.
“We do a container where you can get some dashi for our fried noodle, and we do a garlic noodle. We just due two noodles, but we keep them dry, so we don’t have to deal with the broth and all that kind of stuff,” Tomita said. “I just didn’t want to make the customers unhappy. I’m always trying to keep the customers happy.”
Cost is another big factor.
Tomita said Styrofoam used to cost .09 cents to .12 cents per container. The paper containers cost seven times that.
“Back in 2019, pre-COVID, we moved over to the (paper) containers and they were anywhere, because they had just come out, from .89 cents to a $1.29,” Tomita explained. “Now the cost has come down. But it’s still about .78 cents to .82 cents.”
He said he’s concerned getting the products will become harder and the prices will increase when the ban takes effect on Oahu.
Check out more news from around Hawaii
“I would think that it would come down once again,” he said, “but I don’t believe that it’s going to come down.”