City council considers fee for all bags, paper and plastic

Update on March 8, 2017:

The Council Committee on Public Works, Infrastructure and Sustainability has amended the bill to allow businesses to give customers plastic bags for 10 cents.

Councilman Elefante, the bill’s author, called the change a dilution of his original intent, but voted aye with reservations.

The bill now goes to full council for a second reading and a public hearing that has yet to be scheduled.


[Original post] Paper or plastic?

Either way, you’d have to pay under a proposal to make Honolulu’s plastic bag ban even stricter.

The ban went into effect on Oahu three years ago. Since then, businesses have been handing out either paper bags or biodegradable bags. Some also offer thicker, reusable plastic bags — which are also still allowed under Honolulu’s plastic bag ban — for a price.

A city councilman thinks that fee should apply to all types of bags.

A proposal to ban paper and plastic bags completely died last year, but Councilman Brandon Elefante says a small fee for each bag is the compromise.

If Bill 59 becomes law, it would cost customers 10 cents per bag, paper or plastic.

For Elefante, the reason is simple: “to educate and encourage people to use reusable bags.”

But is the idea popular?

“Somebody going to make money because now, you’ve got to buy one bag,” said Pearl City resident Elbert Tsuchimoto. “Now, I’ve got to buy a bag and carry it around with me all the time, and that’s very inconvenient.”

Elefante and the environmental group Surfrider Foundation see it differently. Hawaii coordinator Stuart Coleman says the plastic bags businesses are currently using are still littering the streets and harming ocean creatures.

“They look like jellyfish to sea turtles and all kinds of sea creatures. They’re found in the bellies of whales all the time,” he said.

As for paper bags, Coleman says those harm the environment another way.

“They use all kinds of chemicals in that production, and the wastewater from those plants is pretty polluted,” he said. “So there are a lot of things people don’t see on the back end. That’s what we’re trying to address — all those hidden costs to the environment, to the taxpayer.”

Coleman says grocery stores like Safeway and Times are on board with the 10-cent per bag fee.

Elefante says businesses would pocket the change.

Right now, three percent of businesses offer compostable plastic bags, 13 percent give away paper bags, and one percent of businesses aren’t compliant with the ban. About a third provide no bag at all while 14 percent offer some combination of the three types of bags allowed.

“We’re trying to remind people to bring your reusable bag. That’s the best solution,” Coleman said.

“I want to go back to the fact of sustainability. It’s about our resources. We live on an island,” Elefante said.

The public will have a chance to testify for or against the bag fee proposal. The hearing will be at Honolulu Hale Wednesday at 1 p.m.

There’s also a push to ban Styrofoam containers from all food establishments in the state. The measure passed its second reading and now heads to committee.

If approved, the ban would go into effect July 1, 2020.

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