On Wednesday November 15th at Honolulu Hale we witnessed an amazing turnout of our community to support Bill 71 – the Polystyrene Ban in the committee on Public Works, Infrastructure, & Sustainability. We had at least five Ocean Friendly Restaurants including Kahumana Farm Cafe, Banan, Umeke Market, Jawaiian Irie Jerk, and The Nook Neighborhood Bistro submit testimony and some even showed in person to give testimony on how running a sustainable, single-use plastic free restaurant is not cost prohibitive and actually encourages business. We had State House of Representative members, the Office of Climate Change & Sustainability, and residents from all shores of the island submit testimony. Science, arguments of ethics, financial degradation to our economy from trash, and emotional personal stories of the detriments of plastic in our lives were presented with grace.

The response from council members usually not supportive shifted as our coalition enlightened the whole room regarding the magnitude of taking action on these issues. The council members followed with hard line questions to the industry representatives who used manipulative techniques to get their employees (many of whom spoke broken English) to testify in opposition to the bill. Council Members also pushed for the Department of Environmental Services to begin adapting more stringent waste reduction strategies. We know that the challenges are immense in trying to adjust away from decades of habits, but hope to be a collaborative partner in bringing about a diversified waste management program that the rest of the world can use as an example.

This was all really good. The bad came in the result when Council Member Fukunaga deferred the bill without any vote from her fellow committee members. This meant that after 4 hours of public discourse she simply used her power as chair of a committee to squash a bill that had some of the most overwhelming public support and strong arguments. It is now only up to her whether it will be introduced again.

The ugly is that this is a continued problem in Hawai’i politics. At both the State Legislature and at the County level we have seen this happen where a single individual used their chair power to squash public discourse and support in favor of business interests that only have a motive of profit and none for resposibily or the ethical way to operate. Senator Baker did the same thing this past Spring in the State Senate and we are not going to let this slide. As a community it is our responsibility to hold lawmakers accountable to a greater good and not to business interests that lack ethics in the quest for a more equitable and sustainable way of life.

Despite all the negative piled on the positives, we are proud in Surfrider’s ability to continue to open dialogue with our State and County officials to create the meaningful change that all those who testified are truly gettting after. Frustrations will not deter us from keeping lines of communication open and coming together to shift the status quo.

Mahalo to all who continue to fight with us on protecting our oceans and this story is far from having a closing chapter as we continue to move forward on making democracy more accessible and transparent to all of you.