Baggy Blues


POSTED: Sunday, February 01, 2009

Question: We seem to be losing the battle against plastic bags in the ocean, and so-called “;dead zones”; choked with plastic and other debris are growing ever larger. While I purchase groceries at three or four supermarkets, only one has a recycling bin for plastic bags. Can anything be done to encourage all Hawaii supermarkets to provide recycling bins for plastic bags?

Answer: Efforts have been made to encourage such recycling, but there are proposals to go even further - to mandate retailers to recycle or just ban the use of plastic checkout bags.

At least three of Hawaii's largest supermarket chains - Foodland, Safeway and Times - do offer the recycling bins, according to Lauren Zirbel, government affairs specialist with the Hawaii Food Industry Association.

  The association, which represents grocery stores and suppliers, has provided its members with an “;At-Store Plastic Bag Recycling Collection Toolkit”; on how to set up plastic bag collection bins.

One of the main activities the association has been pursuing for more than a year is a public-private effort to reduce the use of plastic bags not only by having stores set up the recycling bins, but also by encouraging people to use reusable bags, Zirbel said.

Many retail outlets already sell relatively inexpensive reusable tote bags, while some specialty stores offer compostable plastic bags or, in the case of Whole Foods, no plastic bags at all.

As for grocers that don't offer a recycling bin, “;Some of them are trying to get involved,”; Zirbel said.

If your favorite markets or stores don't offer recycling options, you might lobby them to do so, pointing out the alternative could be a law requiring compensating customers who don't opt to use plastic checkout bags, or banning them altogether.

  Past attempts at the state Legislature to enact a ban have failed, but bills have again been introduced this legislative session.

Senate Bill 245 proposes to establish “;a statewide at-store plastic carryout bag recycling program, requiring certain retailers to collect and recycle plastic bags in their stores,”; then would have “;a ban on plastic bags effective Jan. 1, 2011.”;

Senate Bill 584 simply proposes to prohibit “;distribution of plastic shopping bags by retail stores and supermarkets in the State,”; while House Bill 1357 would require retailers “;to distribute only recyclable, reusable, or compostable checkout bags.”;

Maui County has already passed legislation to ban the use of plastic checkout bags, beginning in 2011, and an effort to pass similar legislation on the Big Island failed by only one vote last year.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 244 proposes to require retailers “;to give customers a refund or credit for complimentary plastic bags that the consumer elects not to use for goods or products purchased.”;

The Hawaii Food Industry Association has opposed legislative proposals to ban plastic checkout bags, saying the alternative would be more expensive and inconvenient to consumers.

  If a grocer doesn't offer a recycling bin, Zirbel suggests just dropping off the plastic bags at one of the stores that does. Or take them to a Wal-Mart Store, which accepts plastic bags and cardboard from other retailers as part of its own recycling efforts.

People can deposit plastic bags from any other store in recycling bins near the front of any Wal-Mart, said spokeswoman Tiffany Moffatt in a phone call from California.

For the first 11 months of 2008, Wal-Mart Stores in Hawaii, including the two Sam's Club locations, shipped about 5,000 tons of plastic and cardboard to California for recycling, she said.

The plastic bags, shrink-wrap and cardboard are recycled into usable products, such as plastic lumber and plastic hangers, some of which return to the islands to be used in Wal-Mart Stores, she said.

“;Wal-Mart has made a significant commitment to preserving and protecting our environment through various sustainability (efforts), working with our suppliers and supply chain, and this is one of the many examples,”; Moffatt said.


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