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Big Island merchants and residents mixed on proposed plastic bag ban

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 10:35 p.m. HST, Feb 10, 2011

HILO >> Merchants and residents have mixed opinions about a bill before the Hawaii County Council that would prohibit retailers from handing out plastic bags to customers. 

Maui and Kauai counties have already adopted similar bans that took effect last month. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has praised the bans as helping limit waste and reduce the amount of plastic that winds up in the ocean and harms marine life. 

The full Council is due consider the bill next Wednesday. 

Hilo Surplus Store Inc. owner Tim Beatty said the bill needs more research. He said his customers rarely come in with their own reusable shopping bags.

"We do use plastic bags, and it is a convenience for us," Beatty told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald. 

Mountain View resident Doreen Uhlmann used a plastic bag to carry food purchased at the Hilo Farmers Market.

"I would like to continue using them," Uhlmann said, explaining she'll only stop if the county outlaws the bags.

Others such as Patty Gourley, who was helping with the Le Magic Pan booth at the farmers market, support the proposed ban.

"Anything to help," she said. "I think the plastic really contributes to our waste problem."

The Council's Environmental Management Committee advanced the legislation with a 5-3 vote earlier this month. 

The ban wouldn't go into effect for a full year if the bill is signed into law. Businesses would still be able to provide customers with plastic bags for an additional calendar year, provided they charged for them.

Businesses could be fined up to $100 for a first violation and a maximum $500 for a third infraction within a single year.

Mayor Billy Kenoi hasn't indicated his position on the measure. 

Hunter Bishop, the newly appointed deputy director of the Department of Environmental Management, said the administration is addressing some concerns regarding enforcement with the bill's sponsor, Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann. Bishop said the concerns are fairly minor.

Hoffmann said he's already had discussions with the administration and welcomes its suggestions.

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