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Presentation to explore Maui’s polystyrene ban and its effectiveness on beach plastic

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Micro Plastics Washing Ashore On The Beach In Hawaiʻi.

A ban on the use, sale or provision of polystyrene food service containers went into effect in Maui County more than three years ago on Dec. 31, 2018. The measure was aimed at protecting marine wildlife and bird populations.

“The County took this step after learning about the lightweight nature of polystyrene and its ability to break down into smaller fragments that persist for decades, contributing to the potential illness and death of marine animals and birds that mistake the small fragments for food and ingest them,” according to the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council.

The MNMRC is now reflecting upon the question: Did this ban improve the amounts or types of plastic on Maui beaches?

The organization hosts a free Zoom presentation by Dr. Jennifer M. Lynch, the co-director of the Hawaiʻi Pacific University Center for Marine Debris Research, to explore this topic.

The talk is set for Wednesday, Feb. 2 at 5:30 p.m. as part of MNMRC’s Know Your Ocean Speaker Series, sponsored by the County of Maui Office of Economic Development. 


Admission is free, but advance reservation is required. Sign up here.

Dr. Jennifer M. (Keller) Lynch has worked for the National Institute of Standards and Technology since 2003, and became the Co-Director of the Hawaiʻi Pacific University Center for Marine Debris Research in 2019. The CMDR was purposefully established in Hawaiʻi, one of the most plastic polluted marine environments. Dr. Lynch’s research focuses on developing optimal methods to quantify and chemically characterize plastic marine debris to answer questions about pollution quantities, sources, fate, transport, effects, and reuse. She has authored 61 peer-reviewed publications and four book chapters, and mentored over 45 graduate students. PC: MNMRC

Dr. Lynch is one of eight co-authors on a study titled, “Did Maui’s expanded polystyrene ban (County Ord. No. 4457) improve the amounts or types of plastic pollution on Maui beaches?“ 

The study abstract states that “in order to protect native wildlife and Hawaiʻi’s unique coastal environments, reduce plastic waste, and promote the health and welfare of the residents of Hawaiʻi, bans on single-use plastic items have been implemented by some local municipalities. However, the impacts and effectiveness of these policies has been rarely studied.”

The study used polymer identification methods to determine if ordinance number 4457 had an effect on the amount and composition of plastic marine debris on five Maui beaches.


The authors of the study are Kerrianne O’Malley, Hawaiʻi Pacific University Center for Marine Debris Research; Sheena Weller, Hawaiʻi Pacific University Center for Marine Debris Research; Cheryl King, Sharkastics; Jens Currie, Pacific Whale Foundation; Kayla Brignac, Hawaiʻi Pacific University Center for Marine Debris Research; Melissa Jung, Hawaiʻi Pacific University Center for Marine Debris Research; Regina Ostergaard-Klem, Hawaiʻi Pacific University and Jennifer M. Lynch, National Institute of Standards and Technology and Hawaiʻi Pacific University Center for Marine Debris Research. 

“We are excited to host Dr. Lynch and to learn about her findings about how Mauiʻs polystyrene ban has impacted the debris on our local beaches,” commented Michael Fogarty, Executive Director of Maui Nui Marine Resource Council. “Her findings are valuable for our nonprofit, especially now as we launch a National Geographic-funded study of the streams and gulches that are transporting plastic waste to Mauiʻs beaches and shorelines.” 

“Polystyrene foam is lightweight, floats, and is more likely to be blown from landfills, even when disposed of properly,” reports the website Foam Free Maui County. Recent studies conducted by University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa show that methane and ethylene (major contributors to global warming) are emitted as polystyrene breaks down (Royer et al 2018). Carbon dioxide is also emitted (Ward et al 2019). 

Jill Wirt, Project and Research Coodinator at Maui Nui Marine Research Council will emcee the free event. 

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