Tag Archives: plastic bag laws

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.


Hawai’i’s Single-Use Bag Law Gains Momentum

Bringing it home to Hawai'i legislators

A coalition of environmental groups held a rally at the state capitol Feb. 9 before a senate committee heard testimony in favor of a bill aimed at drastically reducing both plastic and paper bags by charging 10 cents (an “offset fee” rather than a tax or levy) on all single-use bags at checkout. Read about it and see a picture of the plastic-bag monster on the Sierra Club Scrapbook blog. Volunteers littered the Capitol lawn with 400 bags, representing the average number one person uses annually (for less than 15 minutes, on average). It certainly got legislators’ attention (“What’s up with the bags on the lawn?”), and about 50 people testified at the hearing.

As with plastic-bag laws elsewhere, the goal is to change people’s mindset, so that they get used to bringing reusable bags to the grocery store or ABC store. If  they forget their bags, they will take fewer  because of the fee–and refuse all double-bagging. Because this is not a bag ban, revenue will be generated by those who use bags provided by merchants–perhaps as much as $20 million per year, which would go toward restoring and protecting the state’s much-threatened watersheds and rainforest areas. As the  Sierra Club’s Robert Harris points out, if people get used to bringing their own shopping bags, there won’t be as much money available, but that will  be a sign that the law is working and that plastic pollution is being significantly cut. This helps the environment, but in a different way. The law could come to a vote in a few weeks; if it passes, it could become a national model.

Hawai’i’s Single-Use Bag Law Gets a Hearing

The fee would apply to paper as well as plastic, so it’s a paper-and-plastic bag, or single-use checkout bag law. The committee hearing is Thursday, February 9. If it passes, it will be the first state-wide law in the country.

Who fights plastic bag laws?

Another way climate change and marine debris are similar problems: it’s hard to pass laws to mitigate the damage they cause  because of the opponents who come forward to work against them. Laws aimed at reducing single-use plastic bags, whether by charging a small fee or banning their use by retailers, seem like an obvious solution to the scourge of the bags, which foul our parks, beaches, rivers, and oceans and enter the food chain when they photodegrade into pieces small enough for fish to ingest. Spurred by Ireland’s success in levying a hefty (33-cent) fee on the bags in 2002–use dropped 94% within weeks–scores of municipalities and perhaps 25% of the world’s countries, including Italy and China, have adopted restrictions or an outright ban. (See the Campaign for Recycling for a list of towns and cities by state that have banned or taxed plastic bags–39 cities and counties in California alone.)

The measures have not always sailed into being. When the Seattle City Council passed a 20-cent fee on plastic bags, the plastics industry spent $1.4 million to get residents to repeal the fee in 2009. The Council responded by passing a bill late in 2011 that outright  bans plastic bags–not just in grocery stores but in most categories of stores, food trucks, and farmers’ markets. (Paper bags, which waste resources, will cost 5 cents.)  In California a group of plastic manufacturers banded together to try to force California municipalities to spend money on an Environmental Impact Review (EIR) of the proposed ordinances, which would have added to costs and delay the legislation.  Although the industry’s reps say that they are have the environment in mind in calling for increased recycling rather than banning or taxing the bags and claim that limiting their use hurts shoppers, retailers, and workers (by threatening manufacturing jobs), why are they spending so much money to defeat the bills? The answer to this question, as to so many “why’s” of the anti-environmental movement, is the profit to be made by the manufacturers of plastic bags. Don’t be fooled by an article at the GreenBiz blog by Marc Gunther titled “In Defense of the Plastic Bag” in December 2011; he simply repeats the industry’s arguments and cites a spokesperson for Hilex Poly, a manufacturer with a website called “Bag the Ban,” to back him up. GreenBiz published a detailed rebuttal within a week, by Stiv Wilson. It lays out the case against single-use plastic bags in such detail that it was picked up by the Huffington Post website.

Despite opposition, the movement to regulate plastic bags continues to pick up speed, with three states (Hawai’i, Oregon, California) currently vying to be the first to pass a state-wide law. The key to successful implementation is to change people’s mindset, as happened in Ireland. The New York Times reported, “Plastic bags were not outlawed, but carrying them became socially unacceptable — on a par with wearing a fur coat or not cleaning up after one’s dog.” In short, the Irish became more like Portlanders, whose  obsessive recycling, re-using, and refusing of single-use plastic is satirized in this clip from Portlandia, a cable series . It’s worth noting that Portland was not an early adopter; the city didn’t even have a plastic-bag law until 2011, but it is a ban, not a charge, and it’s one of a few US cities to have one. The mindset had already changed, so the ban was not a big deal.

To have arguments at hand when you counter someone who thinks bag bans are not necessary, see the Ban the Bag PDX blog or Stiv Wilson’s piece in defense of the bans. He takes care of the industry’s argument that recycling is better in three sentences: “That plastics bags are 100% recyclable isn’t the issue. It’s that by a massive percentage they are not recycled [and the rate of recycling is going down, not up]. Even when they are, we end up with more plastic in the environment instead of less.”