Maui bill would ban plastic bags
The grocery sacks are blamed for pollution and harm to wildlife
WAILUKU, Maui » "Paper or plastic?"
Maui County Councilman Michael J. Molina wants to do away with the question entirely over the next five years.
Saying plastic checkout bags have become an environmental nuisance throughout the county, Molina has drawn up a bill to restrict their distribution and to encourage the use of environmentally preferable alternatives.
"The time has come for the dependence on nonbiodegradable plastic bags to be replaced with more environmentally appropriate bags," Molina said last week in a news release. "Residents and visitors need only to travel the roadways of Maui to see that plastic bags are littering our beautiful and scenic vistas."
The councilman said plastic bags also pose a threat to marine life through ingestion and entanglement.
The County of Maui Recycling Division estimates that Maui residents each use 300 nonbiodegradable plastic bags a year for a total of 50 million in the county, Molina said.
Under the bill, businesses with annual gross revenue over $250,000 would be barred from using plastic bags immediately. Environmentally preferable bags -- such as recyclable paper bags and reusable bags -- would have to be distributed.
In five years the measure would cover all businesses in the county.
Revenue from fines that would be imposed for violations would be deposited in the Open Space, Natural Resources, Cultural Resources and Scenic Views Preservation Fund.
"The county budgets $180,000 per year to collect plastic bags from the fences around the public landfill," Molina said. "This revenue should be utilized more effectively for enhancing the environment, such as open-space acquisition or improving our parks."
Molina said he decided against an alternative approach of recycling plastic bags because the cost of such a venture would be prohibitive.
Environmentalists have argued that plastic bags jam machinery, pollute waterways, suffocate wildlife and often end up as eyesores in trees or bushes.
Grocers, bag manufacturers and trade groups have argued that many people already reuse their plastic bags.
Jeff Mikulina, director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii, said his environmental group supports Molina's bill.
Mikulina said the best answer to the question "Paper or plastic?" is "Neither. You're supposed to bring your own canvas bag."
"Really, the bottom line is folks aren't so interested in plastic bags," he said. "They just want a convenient way to bring home whatever they're purchasing. So ... the challenge is to find that solution."