Kauai Island, having an extensive windward coastline, is a natural trap for floating plastics and nets. When cleaning these shoreline areas, Surfrider volunteers have observed an alarming amount of plastic micro particles, the size of sand, that become a part of our marine and near shore environment. One of the most harmful types of plastic is Foamed Polystyrene (FP). It breaks into small pellets quickly, hosts algae, and can easily be mistaken for food by marine life. The component styrene has been linked to serious illness, including cancer. FP micro particles degrade into nano particles (less than 1/100mm) which end up in soils or aquatic environments. Research continues as to how nano plastics react with living cells. Preliminary studies paint a grim picture.
After our success in 2009 advocating for a plastic bag ban for the county of Kauai, we set our sights on foamed polystyrene. We enjoyed a brief measure of success when in 2014, in partnership with Zero Waste Kauai, Surfrider convinced restaurants in the town of Kilauea to go FP free. After that, our Ocean Friendly Restaurants program expanded the number of food establishments committing to go FP free. Despite these voluntary efforts by merchants to do the right thing, the use of FP on Kauai was extensive and required addressing at the political level. We lobbied our elected officials but unfortunately for 6 years were told repeatedly by the mayor and council majority they would not support a ban. Their reasoning was economic hardship on merchants, and apparently lack of political will. Meanwhile all other major counties in the state: Honolulu. Maui, and Hawaii Island banned FP.
When Kauai voters elected a new mayor and 3 new councilmembers in 2018 the attitude began to shift. Surfrider was told by our new mayor that Kauai is ready to legislate a ban on FP and possibly single use plastic food utensils. Our progressive allies on the county council introduced Bill 2775 in January. Presently this Bill and others have been slowed due to the covid-19 crisis. As we emerge from this, Surfrider will be vigilant to see this Bill through with as many inclusions regarding single use plastic as the mayor and councilmembers will support.