A bill in the senate would require some retailers to establish a plastic carryout bag recycling program.
Bill would require stores to recycle bags
Bagful of controversy
A clause stopping counties from imposing a ban or fee is causing opposition to the bill
STORY SUMMARY »
A bill making its way though the Legislature would require many stores to set up a recycling center on-site for plastic shopping bags.
Senate Bill 651 would require retailers larger than 10,000 square feet, as well as those making more than $2 million in annual gross sales, to set up a plastic bag recycling program.
The bill is supported by industry groups such as the Hawaii Food Industry Association and Retail Merchants Hawaii, which say it is a good compromise from the original proposal to ban plastic bags in stores.
A controversial clause in the bill, however, which would prohibit counties from imposing their own fees or ban on plastic bags, is drawing opposition from environmental groups that normally support recycling.
FULL STORY »
senate bill 651
» Author: Sen. Gary Hooser
» What it does: Requires retailers over 10,000 square feet with a pharmacy, and stores grossing more than $2 million a year to set up an on-site plastic bag recycling center.
» Controversy: A clause that would preempt counties or an agency from imposing their own ban or fee on plastic bags.
» What's next: House-Senate conference committee, due for final vote by May 1.
Richard Walker / RWalker@starbulletin.com
A plastic-bag recycling bill that has gone through several transformations is making its way through the Legislature, with the intention of diverting the bags from the state's landfills.
It is drawing opposition, however, because it also seeks to prevent counties from imposing a ban or fee on stores that use plastic bags.
While the original intention, as introduced in a House bill, was to require stores to switch to compostable plastic bags, the new measure, now a Senate bill, requires stores of a certain size to set up a plastic-bag recycling program.
Senate Bill 651, as currently drafted, would require retailers of more than 10,000 square feet with a licensed pharmacy, or a full-line retail store with gross annual sales of $2 million or more, to establish plastic carryout bag recycling programs.
It requires such stores to print a message on their plastic carryout bags encouraging them to recycle it at participating stores, in addition to a visible collection bin on-site.
The stores would also have to maintain records for a minimum of three years, and offer customers an alternative, reusable bag.
Many stores, including Safeway, Times, Foodland, Star Market and Longs Drugs, already sell reusable tote bags -- and most offer five cents back for every bag a customer brings in on their own.
The Hawaii Food Industry Association, Safeway and Retail Merchants of Hawaii support the Senate bill.
At the same time, however, the bill includes a controversial "conflict with other laws" clause, prohibiting a county or public agency from imposing its own plastic bag ban or fee upon a store.
This is a problem for Maui councilman Michael Molina, who authored a county bill calling for a ban on the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags in stores grossing more than $250,000 a year.
Molina opposes the bill, saying it would violate home rule.
"To take away a county's authority to legislate is like taking away the right to voice the opinions of its citizens," said Molina. "As county government, we work closely with the people and part of this legislation was enacted by citizens in our community who expressed concerns about plastic bags."
The bill is now with Maui's Public Works committee.
Molina said in-store recycling programs -- as tested in other cities -- are not proven solutions, given that recycling rates are very low. The consumers need financial incentive, he said.
"It hasn't gone far enough," he said.
The ubiquitous plastic bag is blamed for clogging storm drains, choking marine life, floating into trees and polluting Hawaii's shores. San Francisco has a ban in place, with other cities interested in following suit.
Honolulu is also considering a plastic bag ban, for businesses earning more than $1 million annually.
Jeff Mikulina of the Sierra Club calls the in-store recycling programs a half-step in the right direction, but opposes the bill because of the conflict clause.
"If Maui county wants to restrict plastic bags, they should be allowed to do so," said Mikulina.
The Windward Ahupuaa Alliance, a non-profit group in Kaneohe, opposes the bill for the same reason.
Whether the clause remains in the bill in its final draft remains to be determined in House-Senate conference committee.
Other opponents include the state Department of Health, which the bill would require to administer the store recycling programs and educate the public about it. The DOH testified against the bill, citing the additional burden and costs.
Richard Botti, president of the Hawaii Food Industry Association, said the group supports the bill as a compromise to the ban that was originally proposed. He also supports the conflict clause.
House Bill 2434, authored by Rep. Lyla Berg (D, Niu Valley-Kahala), would have mandated the use of recyclable, compostable and reusable checkout bags for businesses grossing more than $250,000 annually.
"We need to enable people to be more responsible in the use of plastic bags," said Berg. "If we can envision, at some point, a lifestyle with no more plastic bags stuffing landfills and doing damage to the environment, then we need to start now."
The bill, however, failed to cross over to the Senate in mid-February.
But Kauai Senator Gary Hooser's bill, S.B. 651, which initially sought to mandate recycling facilities in state buildings, has evolved into a bill requiring retailers to establish a plastic bag recycling program.
Supermarkets like Safeway already offers collection bins for recyclable plastic bags. Most also offer customers five cents for every bag they bring in.
Kale's Natural Foods stopped ordering plastic bags for its customers last month. Down to Earth Natural Foods plans to offer compostable plastic bags.
Whole Foods Market, which plans to opens its first Hawaii store at Kahala Mall this year, has also publicized its choice to stop using plastic bags starting April 22, Earth Day.