Honolulu mayor signs expanded plastic bag ban bill into law on Oahu

Shoppers on Oahu are going to have to get used to an even stricter plastic bag ban.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell signed the new rules into law Monday.

Bill 59 (2016), FD1, CD3 bans stores from providing any plastic bags starting in 2020.

Starting July 1, 2018, non-exempt businesses are required to charge customers a minimum of 15 cents per bag for groceries or other merchandise. That bag needs to be reusable, compostable, or a paper bag that contains 40-percent post-consumer content.

But after Jan. 1, 2020, even those thicker plastic bags will no longer be considered reusable. Compostable plastic bags will also be banned.

“There’s no longer going to be plastic bags. You’re going to have to come in with your own reusable bag, just like the other counties have,” said Caldwell.

Currently on Oahu, grocery stores and retailers are not allowed to hand out single-use plastic bags at the checkout, which is how the market for thicker, reusable plastic bags emerged.

But city council member Brandon Elefante, who authored the bill, says those bags are now polluting our island.

“Our main issue is really address the issue of plastics, and while merchants and businesses made thicker bags, what was happening was that some people were reusing it, yet these were thicker bags now going into our environment,” Elefante said. “We live on an island and it’s to ensure that we reduce the amount of plastics that we do use and to be more sustainable.”

While they’re supposed to be compostable, volunteers of 808 Cleanups often see them floating along our shorelines.

“It doesn’t break down all the way, so it’s a misconception when it says it’s a compostable bag. It’s kind of an oxymoron. There is no such thing,” said 808 Cleanups assistant director Fawn Liebengood. “Just this last week, I saw a bird eating a plastic bag that was floating through the park, so we definitely need to have an all-out ban.”

There would still be exceptions. The ban would not apply to bags used to carry produce or meat, prepared foods or bakery goods, newspapers, dry cleaning, and bags for pet waste.

“If you are bagging any loose produce like lettuce or tomatoes at a grocery store, those bags will still be acceptable. You can still use those small, thin bags,” Elefante said.

The city’s Department of Environmental Services will enforce the new changes that will impact more than 10,000 businesses.

Director Lori Kahikina says the department hands out surveys every year to make sure businesses understand the change.

“The surveys need to come back to us, and if we don’t get them, we actually go out and meet the businesses to make sure they are in compliance,” said Kahikina.

Those who are not following the law could face a penalty fee of up to $1,000.

“If we find that they are not in compliance, we give them a notice of violation and then it escalates to notice of order,” said Kahikina, “but in the past, when we send notice of violation, there’s immediate compliance.”

So what do consumers think of the new ban?

“I have mixed feelings about it, because I do use the plastic bags for other things, but I guess overall it’s a good thing,” said customer Scott Fujita, who brought his own reusable bag.

“Personally, I like the paper bags. People are not conscious of where the plastic goes,” said customer Todd Goya.

While businesses can still provide paper bags, Adrian Hong, president of Island Plastic Bags, said in a statement:

“This is especially troubling as the cost of 40% post-consumer paper bags is so expensive… The cost of 40% post-consumer paper bags will only increase as more jurisdictions (like California) ban plastic bags increasing the demand for post-consumer paper…”

Now that plastic bags are banned in Honolulu by 2020, we wanted to know what the next steps are.  Will plate lunch containers made out of polystyrene be banned as well?

“That can potentially be the next step,” Elefante said. “Another next step is we could potentially look at the particular exemptions that are in this bill.”

Elefante says right now, there are no discussions of banning polystyrene, similar to what Maui County has passed.

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