Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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Plastic-bag ban initiatives see mixed results in isles

Kauai and Maui adjust to their new laws, but a bill on Oahu is stalled

By Gary T. Kubota


On Maui and Kauai, windy days find fewer plastic shopping bags tumbling across the landscape or landing in the ocean.

That is because recent ordinances ban them from being dispensed in stores.

But on Oahu a similar ban, called for under Bill 43 before the City Council, is going nowhere.

The measure, introduced by then-Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz, now a state senator, has been deferred since Nov. 9, with no hearings scheduled.

First-time Councilman Stanley Chang, chairman of the Public Works and Sustainability Committee, said he is in favor of further talks about a ban. But Chang said he has not decided whether to hold hearings on Bill 43.

Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle said his administration has recommended a fact-finding forum to bring business representatives and interested parties together to discuss Bill 43 and its potential impact.

"I feel these discussions will assist the city and the City Council in determining whether such an ordinance will be effective," Carlisle said.

The bill includes an exemption for businesses earning $1 million or less in gross sales. City Department of Environmental Services Director Tim Steinberger said the bill also does not prevent individuals from buying plastic bags.

Steinberger has noted that plastic bags make efficient fuel for the HPOWER garbage-to-energy plant.

"Plastic in any form has a high-energy conversion value with minimum residue, making it more favorable feed stock than even paper products," Steinberger said in a letter to the Council in November. In addition, HPOWER has scrubbers that clean the smoke emissions of toxic gases, city and state officials said.

Some food and chemical industry representatives said they are against a ban and recommend recycling plastic, as done in several other cities.

But Suzanne Frazer, president and co-founder of Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii, argues that a plastic-bag ban would reduce the stream of waste and protect marine animals, especially sea turtles, which can mistake plastic for jellyfish.

She said she has seen plastic bags flying out of garbage containers and city refuse trucks on rubbish collection day.

Frazer said she sees a ban on plastic bags as the first step in moving people toward reusable products and becoming caretakers of their environment.

"It starts people on the road to environmental responsibility," she said.

On Kauai and Maui, meanwhile, Council members say they are still assessing the public reaction to the new ban.

Kauai Councilman Mel Rapozo said while opinions appear split on the new law, food service establishments are complaining that other alternatives such as paper and cloth bags do not work as well, especially when food spills from containers.

Rapozo said he is planning to introduce an amendment that would exempt food service establishments from the plastic-bag ban.

On Maui, most of the merchants are providing paper or reusable bags, and people are adjusting to the change, said Councilman Michael Victorino.

He said he will probably know in six months about the impact of the new law.

"From my perspective it's going OK, and I think it's a step in the right direction," he said.

Victorino said the county needs to reduce its stream of waste. "We're running out of room," he said.

The Big Island County Council is considering a plastic-bag ban that would give businesses a one-year grace period.

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