Hawaii Becomes First State in U.S. to Ban Plastic Bags

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This post by Scott Cooney originally appeared on the GreenBusinessOwner.com

Just yesterday, MSNBC covered a story about the Pacific Garbage Patch having grown 100-fold in the last 40 years. In places in the gyre, as it’s called, there are 46 times more plastic bits than there is plankton. Plastic does not biodegrade and persists in the environment for eons, so seeing a pile of plastic trash in the ocean just north of Hawaii has always seemed to put a damper on living in paradise for many Hawaii residents. Perhaps cosmically, we were due for a little great news.

Following the City Council’s 7-1 vote in favor, Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle signed SB2511, a bill banning plastic bags in retail stores yesterday across Honolulu County, which comprises the island of Oahu and Hawaii’s capitol city of Honolulu. What makes the bill’s passage extra significant is that Hawaii’s other counties had previously banned plastic bags, meaning that Hawaii has just officially enacted the first full statewide ban on plastic bags in the nation.

Just a year ago, the American Chemistry Council, a lobbying group representing the plastics industry, managed to bribe politician Joe Souki to help defeat a similar plastic bag measure. No kidding. It was in broad daylight, they paid him $24,000 in quote-unquote consulting fees. He helped the ACC ward off a plastic bag ban and styrofoam ban.

But they only delayed the inevitable, as a plastic bag ban in one of the most beautiful places in the world had tremendous public support.

It’s cause for major celebration, and a victory for the public that can only be described as monumental. Stuart Coleman, Executive Director of the Surfrider Foundation of Hawaii, said “there were too many people to thank,” indicating the broad support the bill had across industries and across Hawaii. The Surfrider Foundation has been conducting a Rise Above Plastics Campaign with this bill as one of its hallmark goals. In Honolulu’s bill, a plastic bag is defined as “a bag…made from nonbiodegradable plastic…not specifically designed or manufactured for multiple re-use.”

Thus, bioplastic bags are fine, as are reusable shopping bags that may contain some plastic inputs. Down To Earth, a local all vegetarian health food store, has been using biodegradable bioplastic bags for years.

Under Honolulu’s bill, which phases in the ban over 3 years, plastic bags distributed for loose vegetables, flowers, and the like would still be allowed, but bags with the purpose of carrying retail items out will incur fines of up to $1,000 per day if violated by a retail store.

Ironically, GBO Hawaii, the sustainability-themed board game we’ve developed here at GreenBusinessOwner.com incorporates plastic bag bans and oil industry lobbyists, and I have to admit, this is a day I didn’t think I’d ever see when I started creating the game.

The card at left is a part of the game. Yeah, we had fun creating this game.


Turtle image via Inhabitat


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