DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Times employee Diane Erickson shows one of the store's recyclable shopping bags at Times Super Market's Beretania location in Makiki. The bags retail for $1.29.
Plastic bags could be history in Hawaii and Maui counties
The counties move forward on legislation banning the bags
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Citing environmental concerns, Maui County Council has passed a bill banning all plastic checkout bags for all businesses, big and small. Hawaii County is expected to follow suit.
The proposed Maui law, however, doesn't go into effect until 2011 in order to give businesses time to prepare for it. The Hawaii County bill, meanwhile, awaits a council vote tomorrow and could go into effect as soon as next year.
Maui Councilman Michael Molina, author of the bill, said the ban is part of a global movement, with the Valley Isle taking the lead in Hawaii.
Supermarket and retail trade groups, however, say the ban is impractical. They say the higher costs of paper bags which aren't necessarily better for the environment - will be passed on to the consumer.
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Maui County is getting ready to ban plastic shopping bags, although the proposed law is not slated to take effect until Jan. 11, 2011. Hawaii County also has a similar bill to be voted on by its council tomorrow that could take effect as soon as next year.
Both county bills cite environmental reasons for banning the ubiquitous plastic bag, which is blamed for littering waterways, using up petroleum and choking marine wildlife.
Maui Councilman Michael Molina, who introduced the bill in July 2007, said the council's unanimous vote of approval on Friday means better days ahead for the environment, wildlife and public health and safety.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Maui County is getting ready to ban plastic shopping bags, while Hawaii County has a similar bill to be voted on by its council tomorrow that could take effect as soon as next year. Above, courtesy clerk Debra Fujii bags groceries at Times Super Market's Beretania store in Makiki.
"This is a global movement, and I think Maui is taking the lead," Molina told the Star-Bulletin. "With Maui passing the bill, I think we may see some other counties taking action soon."
The Maui bill prohibits all businesses from providing plastic bags to their customers at the point of sale for the purpose of transporting goods.
Businesses are instead encouraged to offer customers recyclable paper bags (which contain at least 40 percent post-consumer recycled content) that are labeled as "reusable" and "recyclable" and reusable bags made of cloth, fabric or other durable materials.
Penalties range up to, but will not exceed, $1,000 per day.
Molina said the 2011 implementation date gives businesses plenty of time to prepare for the proposed law.
He was inspired by San Francisco's ban, which went into effect last year, making it the first U.S. city with such a law. Malibu followed suit this year. Seattle, meanwhile, is considering a 20-cent "green tax" for checkout plastic bags.
Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares is expected to sign off on the bill, which she considers ground-breaking legislation.
"This important action is intended to help protect diminishing natural resources, and while the bill will not be implemented until 2011, many steps can be taken now to prepare for this new law, including public education and encouraging businesses and shoppers to utilize reusable bags," said Tavares in an issued statement.
The Hawaii Food Industry Association, which represents most supermarkets, however, and Retail Merchants of Hawaii, remain opposed to plastic checkout bag bans.
"We do not believe the stick approach is as appropriate as the carrot approach," said Dick Botti, president of HFIA. "The biggest problem is going to be wet or cold products because they create moisture, and in a paper bag, they're going to fall through."
Both HFIA and RMH say the higher price of paper bags will be passed on to the consumer.
They support an educational approach, encouraging consumers to bring their own bags. Paper bags, they pointed out, are not any better for the environment, and use more energy to produce.
Many major supermarkets and drugstores, from Safeway to Foodland, Star, Times and Longs Drugs, are already selling reusable totes in-store.
Whole Foods Market, which opens its first Hawaii store at Kahala Mall in September, has done away with plastic bags. Whole Foods will offer paper bags, and sell 10 to 15 different types of reusable totes, said store team leader Ray Stockton.
Molina said the bill couldn't be more timely, given that Maui County spends up to $180,000 a year retrieving stray plastic bags from near the county landfill.
In a survey of about 50 small businesses, Maui County's Office of Economic Development said it found 92 percent supported prohibiting the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags, and would be willing to stop using them in their business.
Many indicated they were already making the switch to reusable bags.
Earlier versions of the Maui County bill would have applied to businesses grossing more than $250,000 a year, and also would have allowed compostable plastic bags.
The latest version of the bill that passed, however, applies to all businesses, and does not allow compostable plastic bags.
Hawaii County's bill, introduced by Councilman Pete Hoffmann, is modeled after the Maui bill, except that the ordinance would go into effect within a year after its passage.