Tag Archives: single-use plastic

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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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.

Tsunami Debris Warnings Highlights What’s Already Here, and Growing

If you live in Hawai’i or on the West Coast you’ve probably seen those  aerial photos of a giant field of debris washed into the ocean by the Japan tsunami of March 2011. You may have read about an anticipated “barrage” of debris and of trash likely to be “dumped” on our shores beginning in 2012 and continuing, according to vagaries of wind and currents, to 2016, when the by-then widely dispersed debris circles back from the West Coast to the main Hawaiian islands. Given the long timeline and the lack of experience managing  such a massive and unprecedented “spill,” the damage may turn out like the two most recent tsunami warnings — much less dramatic than expected. NOAA is preparing for either case, worse than expected or better, with the debris breaking up into smaller and smaller pieces that disperse, sparing coastal areas. The intense planning currently under way will not be wasted, however, even if the debris that started out in Japan does not hit all at once. It will eventually end up in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre with its so-called garbage patch and thus is sure to contribute to the oceans of trash that already litter our seacoasts. The source of this trash? That would be all of us. According to the Ocean Conservancy, the tsunami “is just a small part of the overall ocean trash problem”; our throwaway society creates a tsunami’s worth every year, much of it in plastic form.
NOAA Official on the Tsunami Debris
Hawai’i’s marine debris community was briefed this week about efforts to track and deal with the potentially big problem by Carey Morishige, Pacific Islands Regional Coordinator of NOAA’s Marine Debris Program. From her report, and the Marine Debris Website FAQs,  there is not much new since my last post on the topic; no one knows when and where items known to be from the tsunami will wash up ashore as there’s no tracking data, only computer models (the debris has not been visible to satellites since April 2011). We also don’t know how much of it is still on the surface, and how much has sunk or degraded.
Because there has never been a situation like this–an unknown but presumably huge quantity of broken-up buildings, boats, cars, and appliances washed out to sea and caught up by unpredictable currents and wind–NOAA and other government agencies have had to draw on the techniques developed for dealing with the debris that washes up on coastlines in normal times; with this experience they have created the Japan Tsunami Marine Debris Assessment and Response Framework. The team–representatives from 40 agencies and organizations–met at a workshop in January to plan for identifying, measuring, and cleaning up the debris from the tsunami and perhaps even to prevent some of it from reaching some endangered places such as the slow-growing coral reefs of Kure in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.
There’s an App for That
Part of the plan is to step up the measuring and identifying of debris that currently reaches our shores, and Morishige called on nonprofits that regularly conduct beach clean-ups and then separate and weigh components of the trash to contribute their data. TheNOAA unit wants to have a baseline record before anything comes in from the tsunami. Individuals can also contribute using a mobile phone app, the Marine Debris Tracker. You can track and log items you see when you’re at the beach or in a boat on the water; GPS records the debris location.
Be Part of the Solution, not Part of the Problem

The reason there is a network of agencies and organizations working to meet the challenge–and why NOAA has had a Marine Debris Program since 2006–is that Hawai’i, the East, West, and Gulf coasts of the US, and the Great Lakes all have a debris problem. Cutting down on single-use plastic–utensils, checkout bags, bottled water, straws–could make a real dent in this problem if everyone reused or, better, refused these items. As the Ocean Conservancy website says, ocean pollution is a massive problem, but it is “entirely preventable.” Keep watching the tabs at the top for what you can do to reduce the amount of trash entering the ocean.

Two Short Videos about Plastic Pollution & Help for It

Check out these short videos. The first is a 4-minute mock-documentary about the life cycle of a plastic bag. It was made by a group working to stop the significant contribution to marine pollution made by disposable plastic bags, ubiquitous in our throwaway society. They are not only an eyesore; they harm turtles and other marine animals, which can become entangled in them or eat them, along with other forms of plastic.

Laws taxing or outright banning single-use bags by grocery stores and other retailers (“Ban the Bag” laws) are coming to a town or county– or even a state–near you. Help legislators in your area stand up to the plastics manufacturers who benefit from the wasteful practice of sending customers home with their purchases in multiple bags that go into the trash (very few get recycled) after one brief period of use. Remember, the trip home is short, but plastic is forever. It’s easy to convert to reusable bags–keep lightweight cloth or mesh ones in your handbag or backpack and canvas ones in your car. Remember the rule: recycle, reuse, or better yet, refuse plastic bags, and thus reduce the plastic in the marine  environment. For a quick overview of the problems and solutions go to this Australian science-news feature titled No bag, thanks.

The second video, One Plastic Beach, tells the story of a couple, Richard Lang and Judith Selby Lang, who regularly visit a northern California beach near their home and take plastic debris to turn into art, thus publicizing the amazing number and varieties of plastic that turn up regularly; see the hanging canvas with glued-on plastic in families in the exhibit called Rising Tide, and check out the post on plastic combs and toothbrushes on their blog. The Langs’ works have been exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Berkeley Art Center, among other places.