Hawaii Now Has Statewide Plastic Bag Ban - With Significant Loopholes

Newtown grafitti/CC BY 2.0

While there are plenty of bans on plastic bags at the city level in the US, with the approval of a ban of plastic bags at point of sale in Honolulu county, Hawaii becomes the first state in the nation to have outlawed plastic bags at every locale in the state.

Sort of.

Surfrider is cheering the move, which bans all non-recyclable paper bags and all non-biodegradable plastic bags at store checkout counters, effective July 1, 2015. But based on KHON 2's reporting on what sorts of plastic bags will still be allowed, under exemption, it's not hardly a total ban on plastic bags at all.

Here's what will still be allowed after the law goes into effect:
  • Bags used by customers inside a business to package loose items, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, ground coffee, grains, candies or small hardware items.
  • Bags used to contain or wrap frozen foods, meat, or fish, flowers or potted plants, or other items to contain dampness.
  • Bags used to protect or transport prepared foods, beverages, or bakery goods.
  • Bags provided by pharmacists to contain prescription medications.
  • Newspaper bags for home newspaper delivery.
  • Door-hanger bags.
  • Laundry, dry cleaning, or garment bags, including bags provided by hotels to guests to contain wet or dirty clothing.
  • Bags sold in packages containing multiple bags intended for use as garbage, pet waste, or yard waste bags.
  • Bags used to contain live animals such as fish or insects sold in pet stores.
  • Bags used to transport chemical pesticides, drain-cleaning chemicals, or other caustic chemicals sold at retail level, provided that this exemption shall be limited to one bag per customer.

While some of these exemptions make sense to my mind, if the intent of a plastic bag ban is some combination of trying to reduce litter, save non-renewable resources, and save energy from manufacturing so many single-use disposable items, there are enough items exempted from the Honolulu ban to make me shake my head in wonder-slash-frustration at a good idea not done to the fullest.

What's the point of having a plastic bag ban that just bans them at point-of-sale if that paper or (better) reusable bag is filled up with plastic bags containing all your produce, wrapping frozen foods, prepared foods, or your medicines? Reverse the banned and exempted items so that you had to use paper or reusable bags for all the items carried home in one plastic shopping bag and you would've saved more plastic, more resources, more energy. If there's some research showing that the energy and resource balance favors this approach (I haven't seen it...) then I shall gladly stand corrected.

The newspaper bag exemption may be a decent one, if it prevents newspapers from being ruined and therefore just wasting more resources.

Laundry and dry cleaning bags exempted? Pointless. Alternatives exist.

Yard waste bags exempted? Probably, for now at least, fair enough. Not ideal, but fair enough. Ditto the bags in pet store exemptions (let's not go down the road of questioning pet stores themselves right now). And, ditto the one about caustic chemicals.

Of course changing the disposable mindset is not assured by a ban, anywhere, and requires an entire public awareness/education campaign. As Surfrider reports:

While we are excited that the plastic bag bans have been enacted, there has been a reported increase in paper bag use from locals.  Paper bags biodegrade and don't have the same impact on wildlife but there are issues with any disposable product so local Surfrider Chapters will continue to push for more reusable bag education and potentially a fee on paper bags.

Tags: Hawaii | Plastic Bags