Let's see how bans fare


POSTED: Monday, October 12, 2009

While most states and municipalities across the country are fearful to impose fees or bans on plastic bags during the economic abyss, Kauai and Maui counties are bravely poised to impose prohibitions next January. Honolulu's City Council should look upon those ventures as pilot projects for reducing street litter, ocean pollution and carbon emissions.

The Kauai County Council voted 4-2 last week to require retailers to offer only biodegradable plastic, 100 percent recyclable paper or reusable tote bags for carrying products at checkout counters. Retailers are allowed to charge for the bags. The requirement had been planned for next July but was moved up to coincide with the Jan. 11 startup date for Maui County's prohibition of all kinds of plastic bags.

San Francisco became the first big city to ban plastic bags two years ago, but the bans have been limited mainly to a few other liberal cities on the West Coast. State legislation for bans or fees died quickly after the economic downturn began.

Seattle's city council became the first a year ago to approve a 20-cent fee on paper and plastic shopping bags in many retail stores. However, a petition drive financed largely by the plastic bag industry put the issue on a ballot two months ago, and voters rejected the bag fee.

Kauai Councilman Tim Bynum said the Council received more testimony in support of the bill than opposition.

“;It's the right thing to do for the environment, for Kauai and for the state of Hawaii,”; Bynum told the Star-Bulletin's Nina Wu.

The Kauai Chamber of Commerce voiced support for the spirit of the bill but expressed displeasure with what it regards as government intervention. The Retail Merchants of Hawaii opposed it, predicting the cost would be passed on to consumers.

A survey of Maui small businesses showed that 92 percent favor a ban on nonbiodegradable plastic bags. Many indicated they have already begun switching to reusable sacks.

A bill banning plastic bags on the Big Island lacked enough support to overcome a veto a year ago by acting Mayor Dixie Kaetsu. And a bill has been languishing before the Honolulu City Council for more than a year, opposed by the Hannemann administration along with the retail and food industries. The Council should monitor the Maui and Kauai rules next year for evidence to refute the opposition.