Category Archives: throwaway-bag laws

Hawai’i becomes first state to ban plastic bags (by 2015)

I was hoping the statewide throwaway bag bill would pass the state legislature because, even though it was not a ban, it would have reduced the number of both plastic and paper bags clogging our waters and parks and provided funds (from hefty user fees collected) to improve the watershed. But at least the Honolulu City Council passed a bill that will first charge fees and by 2015 ban plastic bags in the City and County of Honolulu, which means that Oahu finally joins the Neighbor Islands (Maui, Molokai, Kaua‘i, and the Big Island), in stopping the distribution of single-use plastic bags by retailers–therefore becoming in effect the first state to “ban the bag.” The news site msnbc.com used that very headline: “Hawaii First State to Ban Plastic Bags at Checkout.” For details on this “first”–such as the fact that Hawai’i County’s ban goes into effect in January 2014–and a complete list of what bags are exempt from the ban, read this green-buzz.net post.

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It’s a settled issue–refuse bottled water

If you want to make a commitment to the environment nothing seems easier than deciding to abstain from bottled water. If everyone did it–just said no to drinking out of the 15- or 20-ounce bottles, even when they are offered for free with your meal or at an event–it would have an impact in a myriad of ways: for starters, it would cut down on plastic pollution and make a small dent in global climate change by reducing the amount of petroleum used in making the bottles and in shipping and recycling them. I haven’t drunk from such a bottle in years, and it seems like more people would like to save money by carrying a reusable bottle and refilling it when they are thirsty. Look at these figures from Honolulu Weekly editor Mindy Pennybacker’s book Do One Green Thing (which has a foreword by Meryl Streep):

“If just one out of 20 Americans stopped buying water in disposable bottles, we’d save 30 million pounds of plastic waste. We’d save the fossil fuels used in the plastic, which equals seventeen million barrels of oil. Adding in the energy used for pumping, processing, transporting and refrigerating bottled water, Americans would save 54 million barrels of oil, the same as running three million cars.”
According to Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute, bottled water, on average, costs from one to 2,000 times more than municipal water. Even if the BWS [Board of Water Supply] raises Honolulu rates 70 percent, tap water would be better for our budgets and the planet.

With figures like these, and my awareness of studies comparing the safety of tap and bottled water by the National Resources Defense Council, I thought the need to forgo bottled water was settled, just as throwaway-bag bans or fees seem so logical. But then I ran across a column in the HPU student newspaper, Kalamalama, that presents the views of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) which, not surprisingly, opposes attempts to outlaw bottled water in vending machines on campuses, claiming that students must have freedom of choice. The IBWA has even produced a YouTube video, “Student Activism 101,” that critiques the student groups working on this issue.

I should have expected that the industry would fight back against the many groups, many led by youth and college students, who are striving to make a difference by pointing out the harms caused by a completely unnecessary product that is nevertheless bought and consumed by the billions. Common sense doesn’t stand a chance apparently, just as in the case of plastic-bag bans and fees, which are fought intensely by plastic-bag manufacturers and industry groups like the American Chemistry Council (these groups spent $1.4 million in Seattle to get residents to repeal a 20-cent bag fee, upon which the City Council turned around and passed a bill that outright bans plastic bags, and not just in grocery stores but in most categories of stores, food trucks, and farmers’ markets). I know it’s tempting to believe the industry arguments, because it’s sometimes easier to just buy the water and rationalize it in the name of convenience of hydration, but the companies are less regulated than the municipal water agencies and interested in profits, not your health. Read a few of the critiques of the corporations that spend so much on advertising to make us prefer bottled water to tap water, or watch a documentary like Tapped or FLOW: For Love of Water; they should persuade you, and might even convince you to encourage others to take that simple green step. Ask your elders what they did before plastic bags and bottled water became ubiquitous. As I remember, we managed just fine.

Letters to the Editor

Sierra Club Hawai‘i’s Capitol Watch asked us not only to write testimony in support of the bag bill under consideration at the legislature but to consider writing a letter to the editor of the Star-Advertiser. It’s been on the receiving end of considerable media attention and the team wants to make sure positive responses overwhelm any negative ones. I was inspired by a brief but eloquent letter in the Honolulu Weekly by Diana Sellner, entitled “Protect our ‘aina”:
The time is now to pass plastic and paper bag legislation on Oahu. Plastic and paper bags are not only a nuisance but an eyesore. The bags are so light, they are easily swept up by the wind and blown all over the city, into our streets, parks, streams and onto our beaches.
      “Ua mau ke ea o ka ‘aina I ka pono.” We need to preserve our precious ‘aina, and get rid of these bags!

Mine is somewhat longer, as I tried to suggest that in a cost-benefit analysis, the benefits would predominate:
We need SB 2511, which levies a 10-cent fee on plastic and paper bags, to become law.
       The benefits? Less litter, which looks bad and costs taxpayers to clean up. Fewer plastic bags fouling streams and ditches, causing backup and flooding. Fewer bags to entangle marine animals. Money saved by retailers because people won’t switch to paper bags, which cost more to produce and use up more resources.
       The costs? Produce bags aren’t affected, so you can clean up after your pet for free. You don’t have to pay–you can bring your own, as you do at Costco, and as we used to do before plastic bags were the norm. If you want a few to line your kitchen waste can, the fee is affordable. Besides, the fees will go toward restoring and protecting our valuable watersheds.
        Sounds like a win-win for everyone but the bag manufacturers, who fight throwaway-bag bills everywhere they are proposed.
It’s easy to send a letter to the paper. Email directly or fill out a form online so that you don’t forget to give your name and a daytime telephone number.

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How to get a throwaway bag bill passed (we hope)

How to get a throwaway bag bill passed (we hope)

Four hundred plastic bags on the lawn at the Hawai’i State Capitol got lawmakers’ attention–will the legislature pass the first statewide bill to “bag the bag”? Click on the photo to read the story of the bag bill.