Plastic Pollution
August 14 2017

Making Waves in Hawaii

by Stuart H. Coleman

The summer of 2017 has been a hot one in Hawaii, weather-wise and policy-wise. Though the surf was mostly small, Hawaii has made waves in terms of policy victories. Surfrider’s Hawaii chapters helped to pass a number of bills, including a new law (Act 32) that commits the state to the goals and guidelines of the Paris Climate Change Agreement; and another one (Act 33) to decrease greenhouse gasses by improving soil health and carbon sequestration. 

The most important victories this summer have been in passing legislation to reduce plastic pollution and marine debris. Working with a statewide Rise Above Plastics (RAP) coalition, the Maui Chapter and former chairs, Lauren Blickley and Tim Lara, helped pass a bill to ban polystyrene foam food containers in May of this year. The bill takes effect at the end of 2018.

Following their lead, Hawaii County is actively considering a similar ban on foam this fall. The Kona and Hilo chapters are working with the RAP Coalition, certified Ocean Friendly Restaurants (OFR) and local leaders to urge people to submit comments. Sarah Rafferty, the Kona Chapter’s OFR Coordinator, has formed a petition urging the county to ban foam, and it has over 5,000 signatures. Some have said that the support from newly certified Ocean Friendly Restaurants has made a big difference and showed that many businesses are doing fine without foam.

On Oahu, Surfrider worked with grocery stores and other environmental groups to pass a bill that would place a $.15 fee on all recycled paper and plastic bags. The legislation also includes a ban on all plastic bags, including the thicker plastic “reusable” bags, by 2020. After a long and heated political process, the Mayor invited the groups to the bill signing to celebrate the passage of the bill.

Since its launch on Earth Day 2016, Hawaii’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants program has brought in more than 130 restaurants across the state. To promote the program, the Oahu Chapter is hosting OFR “Pau Hana / Happy Hour” celebrations each month at different restaurants to thank them and help spread the word about the great work they are doing. Here’s a video from the last OFR event.

With its success in Hawaii and across the country, Surfrider will be expanding the OFR program on a national level this fall. The Hawaii chapters will be working on a statewide ban on foam this winter. Surfrider staff will also be leading presentations about Ocean Friendly Restaurants at the 8th International Marine Debris Conference in San Diego, CA next March. 

So here’s what this summer has taught us:  When there’s not much surf, sometimes you have to make your own waves!

Photo credit: courtesy of Mayor Kirk Caldwell's office