A blog set out to explore, archive & relate plastic pollution happening world-wide, while learning about on-going efforts and solutions to help break free of our addiction to single-use plastics & sharing this awareness with a community of clean water lovers everywhere!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Hawaii’s Big Island Bans Plastic Carryout Bags

N.J. Still Considering Bill to Impose Fee for Disposable Bags

Published Jan 23, 2014 in Sandpaper.net

Hawaii’s big island began a ban last week on plastic bags at all grocery stores, restaurants and retailers, a step the state says it has taken to reduce or eliminate the environmentally detrimental presence of this single-use item. Kauai and Maui already enforced the ban, with Oahu set to follow suit in 2015. A fee for paper bags could be on the horizon, pushing consumers to rely primarily on eco-friendly reusable bags. 

“Being a marine state, perhaps, we are exposed more directly to the impacts of plastic pollution and the damage it does to our environment,” Robert Harris, director of the Sierra Club’s Hawaii chapter, said prior to the enacting of the Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance. “People in Hawaii are more likely to be in the water or in the outdoors and see the modern day tumbleweed – plastic bags – in the environment.”

Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle called the effort groundbreaking. 

“By signing this environmentally friendly bill … Hawaii has become the only state in the United States where every county has plastic bag legislation.

As explained on the website for the County of Hawaii Department of Environmental Management, hawaiizerowaste.org, the reasoning behind the law is focused on the environmental harm plastic bags cause. 

The bags can entangle or choke fish, turtles, birds and other animals that mistake them for food; they contribute to litter and “are not consistent with the county’s goal to reduce the quantity of materials going into the landfills”; and they leach potentially toxic chemicals while degrading.

“A high-quality reusable bag has the potential to replace over 600 single-use plastic bags over its lifetime,” the website notes, adding, “Paper bags are not a good alternative. It takes 14 million trees each year in the United States to produce a year’s supply of paper bags for retail use. Reusable bags reduce litter and conserve natural resources; making them the best choice!”

The ordinance does allows plastic bags for items such as meat, fish, nuts, grains, fresh produce, small hardware, garments and prescription drugs.

Erich Wida, who grew up on Long Beach Island and now lives on Oahu, said his children have learned about the ban in school, even though it hasn’t yet been enforced on that island. I see a push at the schools for sure on awareness of plastic in the ocean. I see very little plastic in the ocean here also.”

His wife, Katie Dean Wida, said plastic bags are also taken as part of their recycling pickup. 

“It will be tough to implement (the ban) on Oahu due to its size of population,” Erich believes, “but you never know.”  

Though Hawaii’s is the only statewide ban in the country, other places – San Francisco, Los Angeles, coastal North Carolina – have outlawed plastic bags as well, and a few states are currently considering single-use plastic bag bans or fees, or both.

In New Jersey – where there is no shortage of coastline and waterways, and plastic bags comprise a large portion of marine litter – a bill called the Carryout Bag Reduction and Recycling Act was approved by the state’s Senate Environment and Energy Committee in December 2012, but has not moved since.

The bill seeks to reduce the use of paper and plastic bags at supermarkets and retail establishments, keeping them out of the environment and the waste stream. The measure would require stores to impose a 5-cent fee per bag for the use of disposable carryout bags, allow stores to provide a 5-cent credit for each bag provided by a customer, and require all single-use carryout bags provided by stores to be recyclable by Jan. 1, 2015.

At the time the legislation was under review by the Environment and Energy Committee, local nonprofit Alliance for a Living Ocean described the measure as a double environmental win, because in addition to helping decrease the use of plastic and paper bags, the bill would generate funds to clean the local watershed, as money raised by the fee would go toward protecting Barnegat Bay.

“This bill makes so much sense, especially for our area,” said Chris Huch, the executive director of ALO at that time. “This bill will work to reduce plastic bag consumption by establishing a tax on plastic bags. That money would go straight into a fund set up by the state to improve water quality in Barnegat Bay. 

This will encourage people to bring reusable bags AND send money to improve our bay’s health! Plastic bags remain one of the most collected trash items in our cleanups and are deadly to many marine animals that mistake them as food.”

ALO President Amy Williams pointed out that the organization “has always been a strong supporter of avoiding single-use items, especially plastic.”

The organization’s new executive director, Kyle Gronostajski, is particularly interested in pushing the issue of less reliance on carryout plastic bags (as well as single-use water bottles and other disposable items). He hopes to raise awareness of the environmental hazards of disposable plastic bags, and to perhaps even get Island stores on board with a ban.

“We live in a very ecologically sensitive coastal area,” Gronostajski noted. He says residents and visitors should understand the problem with plastic bags, and cease using them, instead taking reusable bags to the store.

As he also noted, while Ocean County has informed residents to keep plastic bags out of curbside recycling containers since first accepting mixed recyclable materials in 2010 – as the bags hamper single stream sorting efficiency and can damage the processing equipment – the machinery at the county’s recycling center in Lakewood jams consistently because residents continue to throw these bags in with their recyclables. 

This, said Gronostajski, is just one more reason, of many reasons, to steer clear of plastic bags. 

Juliet Kaszas-Hoch

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