Pre­par­ing to serve up en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly plate lunches

Ban on poly­styrene foam prod­ucts takes ef­fect Dec. 31

The Maui News - - FRONT PAGE - Staff Writer By COLLEEN UECHI

With the ban on poly­styrene foam prod­ucts set to take ef­fect Dec. 31, some busi­nesses are gear­ing up for the pos­si­ble in­crease in costs — but at least one food truck op­er­a­tor be­lieves the switch is af­ford­able.

“To ad­dress the sit­u­a­tion of ‘it’s too ex­pen­sive for us to change over and it’s go­ing to be a fi­nan­cial bur­den,’ re­ally it’s not,” Kyle Kawakami, owner and chef of Maui Fresh Streatery, said dur­ing a pub­lic hear­ing Tues­day night.

“There are other items,” he said, re­fer­ring to al­ter­na­tive food con­tain­ers.

Last May, the Maui County Coun­cil voted unan­i­mously to ban the sale and use of poly­styrene food con­tain­ers, a fa­mil­iar sight in lo­cal plate lunch eater­ies around the is­land. The ban goes into ef­fect at the end of this year, and now the draft rules are avail­able for pub­lic re­view at mauicounty.gov/re­cy­cle.

The rules pro­hibit food providers from sell­ing, us­ing, pro­vid­ing or of­fer­ing the use of the poly­styrene con­tain­ers. The same goes for county fa­cil­i­ties or pro­grams, county-au­tho­rized con­ces­sions and county spon­sored or per­mit­ted events. Ex­emp­tions in­clude: ≤ Poly­styrene foam con­tain­ers used for raw or butchered meats, poul­try, fish or eggs un­less pro­vided for con­sump­tion with­out fur­ther food prepa­ra­tion (such as sashimi and poke).

≤ Poly­styrene foam cool­ers and ice chests de­signed for mul­ti­ple use.

≤ Foam blocks or pieces used as pro­tec­tive pack­ag­ing dur­ing ship­ping.

≤ Pack­ag­ing in sit­u­a­tions unique to the type of food where there are no rea­son­able or af­ford­able al­ter­na­tives; food providers must ap­ply for ex­emp­tions.

≤ Pack­ag­ing in sit­u­a­tions unique to the food provider where com­pli­ance with the ban would cause sig­nif­i­cant hard­ship and there is no af­ford­able al­ter­na­tive; food providers must ap­ply for ex­emp­tions.

≤ Pack­ag­ing in any sit­u­a­tion deemed by the county to be an emer­gency re­quir­ing the im­me­di­ate preser­va­tion of life, health, prop­erty, safety or es­sen­tial pub­lic ser­vices.

Roy Suda’s fam­ily has been us­ing the foam plate lunch plates since 1974, when the old Suda Store first opened in a spot near the Ki­hei Ca­noe Club. The fam­ily closed down the store in 2003 and re­opened as Suda Seafood & Deli at the Shell gas sta­tion in Ki­hei in 2008. Suda said the store uses about 100 to 200 foam con­tain­ers a day, which in­cludes both trays and large cups.

“Ev­ery­thing that we do is all take out,” Suda said via phone Tues­day. “We use a lot of foam cups and

trays for our fish and our saimin and chow fun noo­dles.”

Suda said he hasn’t de­cided yet what kind of prod­ucts he’ll switch to, and thus doesn’t know ex­actly what the cost in­crease will be. His cur­rent sup­plier is Maui Chem­i­cal and Pa­per Prod­ucts.

“It’s go­ing to af­fect a lot of busi­nesses as far as fast food goes,” Suda said. “We use a lot of the sty­ro­foam con­tain­ers, and so the cost of the food prod­ucts is def­i­nitely go­ing up be­cause they have to com­pen­sate for the costs (of the new con­tain­ers).”

Suda said he still be­lieves his busi­ness will be able to op­er­ate, though the costs will be passed on to the cus­tomers. But over­all, he said, he thinks the move to­ward en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly con­tain­ers is a good one for the county.

Kawakami said he also sup­ports the ban and said there are plenty of af­ford­able prod­ucts on the mar­ket. He made the de­ci­sion “to go com­pletely re­cy­clable” when he started the Maui Fresh Streatery food truck in 2013.

“I think a lot of the fear that peo­ple have about this move to­wards biodegrad­able and re­cy­clable prod­ucts is based off of a lack of in­for­ma­tion and lack of know­ing what to do when the time comes for the changeover,” Kawakami said.

The chef/owner agreed that it can be “hard to get away” from the cheaply priced foam con­tain­ers. Costco, for ex­am­ple, sells them in packs of 100 for $16.59, or about 16 cents apiece. How­ever, Kawakami has found sim­i­lar biodegrad­able “clamshell” con­tain­ers at Hopaco for 21 cents apiece. And, he said last year Costco tested the wa­ters for fiber­based take­out con­tain­ers at 19 cents apiece.

Kawakami also uses prod­ucts from Sus­tain­able Is­land Prod­ucts in Hilo, which re­cently opened an out­let in Wailuku. A biodegrad­able bowl costs 32 cents each — slightly more pricey. But he an­tic­i­pates prices go­ing down as de­mand grows.

“Places are go­ing to have to bring the prices down, be­cause the busier it gets with peo­ple buy­ing it, the places that had it cheap are go­ing to cap­ture the busi­ness,” he said. “Places are charg­ing more be­cause (the ban) is not en­forced.”

Jerry Masaki, gen­eral man­ager at the Pukalani Su­perette, said af­ter the pub­lic hear­ing that the ban shouldn’t have too big of an im­pact on the long­time Up­coun­try store. It mostly uses flat foam con­tain­ers for pro­duce and “frag­ile” items like asparagus.

“I guess now we’ll just put them in bags,” he said. “It’s just a mat­ter of us try­ing to fig­ure out what we can do and what we can’t do.”

Masaki was also sup­port­ive of the ban and said that “ev­ery­body’s just try­ing to be ahead of the game and be pre­pared when the tran­si­tion” comes. Pukalani Su­perette will likely switch out any banned con­tain­ers a cou­ple months be­fore the new rules take ef­fect, he said.

“Hope­fully there’s suf­fi­cient in­ven­tory,” he said. “I guess that would be one con­cern, as the de­mand gets greater on th­ese prod­ucts, if they’ll be able to keep up with the in­ven­tory and hope­fully main­tain pric­ing to where it’s com­pet­i­tive.”

For more in­for­ma­tion on the rules, call the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment’s En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion & Sus­tain­abil­ity Di­vi­sion at 2707880.

The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Roy Suda dis­plays the types of poly­styrene con­tain­ers he and wife Carol use to serve food at Suda Seafood & Deli Tues­day morn­ing in Ki­hei. Roy Suda said they go through about two boxes of the bowls and plat­ters a month sell­ing fresh fish, saimin and chow fun. A county ban on poly­styrene con­tain­ers takes ef­fect Dec. 31.

The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Cuts of fresh ahi are weighed Tues­day at Suda Seafood & Deli. Roy Suda’s fam­ily has been us­ing foam plate lunch plates since 1974 when the old Suda Store opened near the Ki­hei Ca­noe Club.

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