Say hello to the first semester since the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa campus banned expanded polystyrene foam products at dining locations.
EPS foam, better known as Styrofoam, has been a hot topic recently, as hundreds of cities, counties and even countries like Haiti and China are passing bans and regulations on the controversial product. Just a few months ago, styrene, a main component in EPS foam, was classified as “reasonably anticipated to be carcinogenic.” It was also directly linked to neurological and respiratory illnesses.
EPS foam is one of the most commonly littered products, and it is almost never recycled; in most cases, it isn’t even recyclable. A lightweight product, EPS foam flies away and breaks into small pieces easily, making it harder to clean up and easier for animals to ingest.
Last February, the front page of Ka Leo focused on Styrofoam at UH Mānoa while a petition was gaining momentum throughout the spring semester. The same day that article ran, Chancellor Tom Apple and the administration responded in support of a potential ban on EPS foam at UH Mānoa.
As students of the Surfrider Foundation at UH Mānoa campaigned for support, gaining more than 1,000 signatures online and in paper, a draft policy was written with the help of the Mānoa Sustainability Council.
With input from all stakeholders on campus including Food Services, Sodexo and the Chancellor’s Office, as well as input from experts and community members from organizations such as Styrophobia and the Surfrider Foundation, a policy was submitted for approval.
The “War on Styrofoam” lasted a few months and came to a peaceful end. On April 2, a policy was approved, and the ban on EPS foam was passed just in time to kick off Earth Month. Immediate changes may not be seen, but in writing, the policy requires all new vendors to provide food service products other than EPS foam, giving priority to encouraging reusable and compostable (plant-based) products. Current vendors can only renew contracts by agreeing to the new policy. So, though we may see Styrofoam around campus here and there, be assured that it will be gone soon enough.
As a state, Hawai‘i’s movement toward environmental stewardship is more apparent than ever before. We are the first state to ban plastic bags, and there is an ever-growing use of renewable energy in homes and businesses. Attempts have been made to ban EPS foam at the state level earlier this year, and environmentalists across the state will continue to push for similar initiatives in the future.
With attempts to make UH Mānoa a model for sustainability, there is a strong commitment to environmental justice that is growing every year. With a system-wide sustainability policy in the works for all of UH, policies like this are part of the future of our campus and campuses across the islands.