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An Open Letter to Hawaii and Its Restaurants: No More Styrofoam!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

We live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Our options for food here on the islands are exciting and delicious – fresh, organic, local, fulfilling, and varied by multinational culinary influence. We have ample access to renewable energy sources and recyclable materials, and know the importance of sustainability to our environment, our health, and our wallets.

So why do we continue to allow our local restaurants and eateries to serve us food in Styrofoam containers? It’s indisputably horrible for the environment, ultimately bad for us, and ugly to boot.

And still, day after day, restaurants ranging from island-wide chains to your neighborhood lunch wagon and your favorite Thai spot are almost all serving their delicious meals in these Earth-killing Styrofoam tray-boxes.

Enough is enough, and we don’t have to wait for the restaurants to agree.

What’s so bad about Styrofoam?

  • It takes hundreds of years to biodegrade.
  • Very few curbside or transfer station recycling programs accept styrofoam, so it goes into the trash. By volume, the amount of space used up in landfills by all plastics is between 25 and 30 percent 1.
  • Polystyrene foam (the technical name for Styrofoam) is a major element of ocean debris and pollution. It is extremely toxic to marine life and a huge component of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.)
  • Styrofoam that doesn’t make its way to a landfill or the ocean has an equally deleterious effect on animal life on land.
  • It’s bad for our food, and bad for us! Toxic chemicals leach out of styrofoam and into the food it contains, especially in the microwave. These chemicals threaten human health and reproductive systems.
  • The creation of polystyrene contributes to the destruction of the ozone layer. The National Bureau of Standards Center for Fire Research identified 57 chemical byproducts released during the combustion of polystyrene foam 2.
  • Workers in polystyrene manufacturing are exposed to styrene (the building block of polystyrene), chronic exposure to which can cause a huge number of health problems 3.

What can we do about it?

We can stop buying it! And we can stop buying it right now.

Demand that the restaurants you visit use recyclable containers or don’t go to that restaurant. Follow up by encouraging the restaurant in person and on public forums like Yelp! to use recyclable packaging.

Eventually, we can outlaw it. Many cities in the US have outlawed polystyrene foam – Portland, Oregon and Orange County, California, just to name two West Coast examples, along with over a hundred others. Honolulu itself considered a ban three years ago but it went nowhere 4.

Why should restaurants in Hawaii use alternatives to Styrofoam?

Post-consumer recycled paper, bamboo, corn plastics, and a variety of other alternative materials are easily renewable and readily available. All of these products biodegrade when composted, and paper products can be recycled at most people’s doorstep where community recycling is in place. And it looks a lot better.

Now what?

Here’s the deal, Hawaii. Our blog has a large following, and we believe in supporting local business that share our values. In fact, we are happy to shamelessly promote them!

So if you know any restaurants in Hawaii that are environmentally conscious, socially responsible, and willing to do what’s right for their customers and their environment rather than what they perceive to be cheaper and easier, send us their name! We promise to follow up with our readers and let them know where to go for their next culinary experience, even if they are just in the mood for some good old loco moco 5.

We will keep an updated list on our blog, friend the restaurant on our Facebook page, and link to our list in our monthly email updates to customers and friends.

Let’s work together to find the right companies and vote with our wallets.

What’s Your Favorite No-Styrofoam Restaurant? Let Us Know!

  1. Polystyrene Fact Sheet, Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education, Los Angeles, California ↩

  2. According to a 1986 EPA report on solid waste. ↩

  3. OSHA ↩

  4. KITV ↩

  5. In an attempt to keep it local, and hopefully inspire change, we will not show national food chains. ↩

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