Ban on Plastic Bags to Take Effect Next Summer

10 10 2014

plastic bagsIn the early months of 2012, I introduced Bill 10 which was heard by the City Council on February 15th and referred to the Committee on Public Works and Sustainability for review. At the time, I was optimistic that we could find common ground on the universal problem of plastic bags. Honolulu was the only county in the State that had no regulation on bags distributed to retail and wholesale customers to carry merchandise from the checkout. Bill 10 was drafted to impose a ban on all non-recyclable paper and non-biodegradable plastic bags.

The US Environmental Protection Agency reported that plastics made up more than 12% of the country’s municipal solid waste stream, a dramatic increase from the 1% reported in 1960. The manufacture of non-biodegradable plastic bags diverts millions of barrels of crude oil from other uses, increasing the cost of those uses of the fuel.

Testimony in support of the ban was matched by opposition. Environmental groups generally supported the ban and retailers did not. Claiming that recyclable paper bags are up to ten times more expensive than plastic, the Retail Merchants of Hawaii testified that for every truck that delivers plastic bags, seven trucks are needed to deliver the same number of paper bags. Inherently more expensive to manufacture and ship to Hawaii, the higher cost of paper bags would surely be passed on to the consumers. They called for a 10-cent fee on single-use bags that would both cover the cost of the bag and discourage its use by the public.

Although I believe we should continue to promote reuseable bags as the ultimate solution to the problem, I did not support a fee as a way to regulate single use bags. Banning all non-recyclable paper bags and non-biodegradable plastic bags, Bill 10 was passed by the City Council in April of 2012 with an effective date of July 1, 2015. The time between was meant to give the merchants time to adjust to the ban by using up remaining supplies of non-conforming paper or plastic bags before the law took effect.

The Department of Environmental Services was charged with establishing the implementation of Bill 10, now Ordinance 12-8.   But unable to identify a clear and reliable industry standard to meet the definition of “biodegradable” defined in the law, the Department supported a total ban on all plastic bags as proposed in Bill 38, introduced last April. Unlike the confusion over the standards for bio-degradable bags, compostable bags must meet the clear standards of ASTM International, the nonprofit formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials. I introduced an amendment to the bill to allow for the use of compostable bags. Plastic bags will still be allowed for loose items such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, coffee, candy, or small hardware items, and for frozen foods, meat or fish, flowers or plants, medications, newspaper, laundry and pet items.

Bill 38 was signed into law on September 24th and bags meeting the definition of “compostable” will still be allowed, as will all non-plastic bags, including paper and cloth. Although environmental groups would have preferred banning compostable bags, they called the ban on biodegradables “a step in the right direction.” I hope that we will one day depend totally on environmentally responsible reuseable bags to carry home our groceries.




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