Polystyrene foam has grown to be an impressively famous element of the food industry. Like practically all plastics, it is very easy and convenient to use, which makes it a perfect material for single-use food containers thanks to its aptitude for preserving heat – or, rather, it would be perfect if not for its serious environmental impact.

 

Also like all plastics, this particular material takes a serious toll on the planet once it is accumulated in our landfills and in the oceans, since it does not biodegrade. But that is not even the whole story – polystyrene is also connected with a number of health concerns, like the fact that it releases toxins when exposed to heat.

It is then clear that something has to be done about the overuse of polystyrene foam. Fortunately, that is exactly what is happening. On May 18th, Maui County passed legislation outlawing the use of polystyrene foam food containers. The county was the first in Hawaii to successfully pass the bill through the council. The new bill extends to the islands of Maui, Lanai, Molokai, and Kaho’olawe.

According to the legislation, the use and distribution of polystyrene foam containers will now be prohibited for both food distributors and retailers. It is a great win for the anti-plastic case, especially since polystyrene is truly pervasive in the food industry in Hawaii. The material has become a staple part of the traditional Hawaiian “plate lunch,” a combination of rice, macaroni salad, and meat, even though, originally, the meal used to be served on paper plates, not plastic ones. Hawaii has the largest per capita use of polystyrene in the U.S. – according to the City and County of Honolulu’s 2006 Waste Characterization Study, Hawaii generates an estimated average of 44,500-65,965 pounds of polystyrene waste per day!

Maui County has already made a fantastic step towards a more environmentally-conscious politics when it comes to waste. In 2011,  the county introduced a plastic bag ban which significantly diminished the amount of plastic litter in the area. Considering the great alternatives to polystyrene foam that are now available and comparative in price, the new bill is a victory for everyone – and a huge step forward in the matter of plastic pollution in Hawaii. Hopefully, it will also be an inspiration for other places all around the world!

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