LIHUE — The town of Kilauea on Kauai’s North Shore is well known for its beautiful beaches, lighthouse, charm and even bird watching.
Moving forward, however, visitors may remember it for something very different.
“Every restaurant in Kilauea is Styrofoam free,” said Gordon LaBedz, treasurer of the Surfrider Foundation Kauai Chapter.
On Tuesday, LaBedz, Yoshito L’Hote, president of the Kilauea Neighborhood Association, and Pam Burrell of Zero Waste Kauai installed two signs at the entrance to Kilauea.
“Welcome to Kilauea,” the signs read. “A Styrofoam Free Community.”
The new designation comes as a result of a new campaign by Surfrider and Zero Waste Kauai aimed at stopping island eateries from using non-biodegradable containers. The first step was to conduct a survey to find out which businesses were already implementing the Styrofoam-free vision.
“We were pleasantly surprised,” LaBedz said of the results.
Of the nearly 250 restaurants on Kauai, 86 — or 35 percent — have already done away with single-use plastic to-go containers. That includes six on the Westside, eight in Lihue, 19 on the Southside, 24 on the North Shore, and 29 in Kapaa.
Although encouraging, LaBedz and Burrell say they’re shooting for 100 percent compliance. And they’re not afraid to use pressure to get it done.
“It’s called shame,” LaBedz laughed. “We’re trying to shame people into doing the right thing. We’re not embarrassed to say that.”
The bottom line, according to LaBedz, is that plastics present litter, pollution and health problems.
“Every piece of plastic that has ever been made is still here,” he said. “It’s a constant, persistent pollutant.”
While they do not biodegrade, plastics, including Styrofoam, break down into small particles that persist in the ocean, absorb toxins and enter the food chain through fish, sea birds and other marine life, according to information on Surfrider’s “Rise Above Plastics” campaign site.
In fact, they account for 90 percent of floating marine debris and kill 1.5 million marine animals each year.
One of the businesses in Kilauea that has been at the forefront of the movement is Kilauea Bakery. In addition to biodegradable containers, it uses ecofriendly disposables — forks, knives, spoons, coffee stirrers and straws — made from corn and potato starches.
“It’s all good,” reads a sign above them. “Just don’t eat them.”
Owner Tom Pickett said he couldn’t remember a time when the bakery used Styrofoam.
“For the record, I hate Styrofoam,” he said. “I cannot stand Styrofoam coolers or Styrofoam peanuts, cups, any of that … Those things are just terrible for the environment and they’re a pain in the butt.”
Joshua James, a bartender at Kilauea’s The Bistro, said the business was also one of the original “poster children,” for years, opting not to use single-use plastic containers.
Recently, however, the restaurant took things one step further by doing away with to-go orders altogether. Instead, James said, The Bistro promotes sitting down and eating food, not taking it home in a container that immediately ends up in the trash.
Burrell, who was in charge of surveying all North Shore eateries, said she was pleasantly surprised by what she found. However, the handful of restaurants she spoke with that were against getting on board, often citing higher costs, left her frustrated.
“Styrofoam is just one of the worst things that just blow around in our environment, especially when we live on an island,” she said.
If it were up to her, she would get rid of not only plastic containers but also plastic water bottles across the island.
“I don’t want to stop,” she said of the movement. “I just see so much waste. It’s just needless waste — without thinking.”
Although Kilauea deciding on its own to go Styrofoam-free is a small step, L’Hote views it as an important one.
“I think it’s very important for everyone to make an effort to take care of this special place and each other,” he said. “Be proud to live in Kilauea and on Kauai because Kauai no ka oi (is the best) and Kilauea no ke alakai (is the leader).”
In 2009, Surfrider and Zero Waste Kauai successfully campaigned for the County of Kauai to ban the use of plastic shopping bags.
If the remaining restaurants don’t jump on board with their Styrofoam free vision, LaBedz said the nonprofits are prepared to take the same route as they did with plastic bags by pushing for the Kauai County Council to introduce legislation.
While it is easier and cheaper to pollute, LaBedz said the result on Kauai is that more than 3 million pounds of Styrofoam ends up in the local landfill every year.
“People do the wrong thing all the time. We’re trying to change that,” he said. “I think we can do it.”
• Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.