Honolulu trails other counties in banning plastic bags
Maui has passed a law prohibiting businesses from providing customers with plastic shopping bags, and Hawaii County just approved a similar measure.
Maui County has set a model for the rest of the state in banning plastic shopping bags, joining a small but growing number of American cities and towns that are curbing use of the ubiquitous sacks.
With Hawaii County following suit and Kauai taking steps to replace plastic with durable, reusable bags, the city of Honolulu lags behind.
By itself, a ban won't reduce greenhouse gases, eliminate litter or save Hawaii's marine life, but it is a course of action that in concert with others can mend the environment, and the most populated island in the state should do its part.
A bill has been languishing in the City Council for months. The Hannemann administration, along with retail and food industry lobbyists, opposes the measure.
The administration contends bag litter isn't a problem on Oahu, an assessment challenged by the abundance of plastic pennants flapping in the tradewinds in parks, streets and business and residential districts across the city.
The administration asserts that the city would lose a source of trash needed for its waste-to-energy plant, an argument that would carry weight only if garbage were in short supply.
Maui's ordinance will prohibit all businesses from providing customers with compostable or noncompostable plastic bags at points of sale beginning in 2011, giving business lots of time to make the transition. It allows paper bags made from partially recycled materials, but paper bags are bulky and could increase shipping costs, which businesses will ultimately pass on to customers.
If consumers bring their own reusable bags, as more and more are doing, stores will not have to provide the numbers they do at present or can charge for bags as some bans allow.
A survey of small businesses on Maui found that 92 percent favored a ban of nonbiodegradable plastic bags, and many had already begun switching to reusable sacks.
Almost all supermarkets, drugstores and discount stores sell branded bags, and many give customers small rebates for bringing their own. Though department stores, sporting goods retailers and bookshops have been slower to adopt the new practice, some sell trendy totes brandishing logos or designs to appeal to their customers as "going green" becomes fashionable.
Plastics are essential for myriad purposes, such as medical equipment, but disposable bags aren't, and substituting the flimsy petroleum-based product is an easy call.