Honolulu’s Bill 40 Plastic Ban

An Ordinance to Mālama ‘Āina 

Written By Sydney Millerd

Over the past few weeks, you may have noticed a change in your plate lunch containers and spoons for your shave ice.  That’s because the regulations of a plastic banning bill-turned-ordinance was just put into full effect on September 6, 2022.  

Commonly known as “Bill 40,” this measure restricts food vendors and businesses (all establishments from small local eateries to big box stores) in the City and County of Honolulu from selling, serving, and providing polystyrene foam food ware, disposable plastic service ware, and disposable service ware to customers.  These restrictions are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Environmental Services.  If found to be in violation upon inspection, the food vendor/business will be given a warning.  Upon a follow-up inspection, if the food vendor/business is still not in compliance they will be subject to a fine between $100 to $1,000 for each day of violation.       

Before we get into more of the nitty gritty, to clear confusion, “Bill 40,” “Ordinance 19-30,” and the “Disposable Food Ware Ordinance” are all the same thing.  Beginning as Bill 40, in the Honolulu City Council, the ban became an ordinance when it was signed into law.  However, many people and news outlets often use the terms interchangeably, as we will here.  

Path to the Ordinance 

Signed into law in April 2012, Honolulu’s first plastic banning ordinance was put into effect on July 1, 2015 which prohibited businesses from providing single-use checkout plastic bags and non-recyclable paper bags to their customers.  Following this, two other ordinances were put into place to amend the first ordinance to prevent thicker, so-called “reusable” plastic bags from being distributed and establish a minimum 15 cent charge to customers per reusable, compostable plastic, or recyclable paper bag. 

Building upon this foundation, the Disposable Food Ware Ordinance was a plan three years in the making to further reduce Honolulu’s plastic consumption and waste.  Bill 40 became Ordinance 19-30 on December 15, 2019 but didn’t go into full effect until a couple weeks ago.  The reasons: (1) the regulations were to be effective in two phases, and (2) impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the process. 

The first phase was to begin on January 1, 2021, but due to COVID, it was delayed through March 2021, then once again until June 24, 2021.  The second phase was to then begin on January 1, 2022 but was suspended through March 5, 2022 due to the relatively poor state of businesses and supply chains as a result of the pandemic.  However, the ordinance was once again delayed due to an industry exemption filed by the Honolulu Chamber of Commerce, the Hawai‘i Food Industry Association, the Hawai‘i Restaurant Association, and the Retail Merchants of Hawai‘i.  A six-month exemption was granted and food vendors and businesses now had the target date of September 6, 2022 to be ready for the new plastic regulations.  However, even prior to these delays, businesses were given apple time to prepare for the ordinance to go into effect.    

So What Plastics Are Banned and Allowed in Honolulu?   

Bill 40 particularly places new restrictions on food ware and service ware, and amends plastic bag restrictions.  With theseUnder all plastic ordinances (12-8, 14-29, 17-37, and 19-30), here’s what’s banned and allowed in the City and County of Honolulu: 

Additional exemptions:

  • Undue hardship: Application for exemption required 
  • No reasonable alternatives: Application for exemption required
  • Emergencies 

It can be tricky and, currently, more costly for food vendors and businesses to comply with all of these new regulations; however, many have been successful in the transition and are doing their part to reduce Honolulu’s plastic waste consumption. 

Stopping Pollution At The Source! And Other Benefits of Bill 40 

Eight-million to 12-million tons of discarded plastic enters our ocean every year.  That’s equivalent to a garbage truck of plastic being thrown into our oceans every minute!  In Hawai‘i, the Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund estimates that 96% of the 15-20 tons of marine trash that is found on our shores every year are plastic.  Aren’t these numbers crazy?!  But in a way it makes a little more sense when you realize that approximately 50% of plastic produced will be thrown away after one use.      

Although it is unrealistic to completely remove plastics from our lives, we do want to reduce our use of it, especially single-use plastics.  The Disposable Food Ware Ordinance prevents single-use plastics from being used in the first place - stopping pollution at the source!  We all know that once plastics enter the ocean that it can harm marine life but did you know that plastics in our ocean also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and ocean acidification?  Bill 40 helps to prevent these negative impacts from getting driven even further.          

Eating less food from and with plastic materials can also be beneficial for our health.  It has been found that we consume a credit card’s weight worth of plastic in a week, some of this being particles from the plastics used when consuming food and beverages.  At the same time, chemicals in plastic can leach into food and beverages which have been linked to health problems such as metabolic disorders and reduced fertility.      

Continuous Room for Improvement

Even with the strictest plastic ban in the nation, there is still room for improvement.  For example, under Bill 40, plastic “reusable” containers made from thicker plastic are still allowed; however, consumers still see them as disposable and throw them away after a single use.  Additionally, though plastic bags are banned, many people have a surplus of reusable bags which are also made of plastic or have a form of plastic woven within the material to make them stronger for multiple uses.  Meanwhile, it's also important to consider the other forms of disposable plastic we have in our lives not addressed by Bill 40.  To add to that, we must also think globally as much of the debris washing ashore is not from Hawai‘i, and is rather from both the west coast of the United States and the east coast of Asia.  Further, while it is unrealistic to completely eliminate plastic from our lives and there is still room for improvement, Bill 40 is a great example of legislation being a proactive solution and is an excellent step in the right direction to consume less plastic in our lives.  

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