Last night in Honolulu, we made history: Bill 40, a comprehensive plastic phase-out bill, was approved 7–2 at the Honolulu City Council (the governing body for the island of Oahu). Activists from across the island have been working for nearly a decade to get smart plastic legislation passed in the city and state — the vote last night was nothing short of victorious. This is the strongest plastic phase-out bill in the country, and likely in the world.
CleanTechnica CEO Scott Cooney and I were there (along with about 100 other supporters) to witness history being made on our island, and let me say, it was so awesome. There were tears, whoops, whistles, and clapping, which I’m pretty sure the city council doesn’t usually experience in its hearings. I’m not crying, you’re crying! Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell has expressed support for the bill and we expect it to be signed.
One of the most exciting parts of the (very long) hearing was when Dyson Chee, a 16-year old homeschool student, unfurled a massive banner with 1500 signatures from students across the island, reminding the city council members that this was a decision for their generation. Students from around the island have been very active in this campaign, and it’s truly so very heartwarming. Although, as Greta Thunberg has said (I’m paraphrasing here): she does not want to be inspiring, she wants to be IN SCHOOL, not trying to fix what the adults messed up.
Much of the supportive testimony focused on the ethical imperative to act on the clear climate emergency we face. There was opposition testimony from a handful of naysayers from the business community, like the Chamber of Commerce, industry-backed lobbyists, and a few food companies. Most of them pushed the (untrue) lament that it would cost too much for local businesses to switch to bio-based alternatives, and that it would put local companies out of business. We know this is an industry falsehood, and with the exception of two older, more conservative council members who voted no (and we knew they would), it seemed that industry concerns just didn’t hold up in the face of our overwhelming plastic emergency.
I was truly disgusted with much of the opposition testimony, which seemed to fully ignore the very real impacts of plastic pollution. Many on the opposing side simply whined about being confused about the bill, and not knowing how they would cope with the changes. Another person was so deliriously ignorant of the plastic solution that she suggested it was terrible to get rid of rubbish bags that are so helpful (which is not a part of the bill, FWIW) and that we shouldn’t penalize businesses for simply following the law. Good news for us, that law is now in favor of the planet. 🌎
The food industry did have its way in some parts of the bill, creating absurd extensions and exemptions that I think are just not fair to the ecosystem. I feel really strongly that these businesses need to suck it up and be on the right side of history.
Marcel Honore, writing for Honolulu Civil Beat, succinctly explains what the bill does: “Under Bill 40, the new restrictions would take effect gradually, starting with city-led outreach efforts next year. In 2021, local food vendors would be prohibited from selling prepared food in polystyrene foam food ware. In 2022, they’d be prohibited from selling prepared food in disposable plastic food ware. The measure provides multiple exemptions and allows for local businesses to apply for hardship exemptions where they can’t come up with an alternative to their disposable plastics.”
So, Bill 40 is not going into effect immediately, and it’s not perfect, but it’s a hard-won victory. Huge mahalo to city council members Tommy Waters, Kymberly Marcos Pine, Ikaika Anderson, Ron Menor, Joey Manahan, and Brandon Elefante for the YES votes on this historic bill.