POSTED: 3:10 a.m. HST, Mar 5, 2011
PAGO PAGO, American Samoa >>American Samoa officials have told more than 100 businesses to stop distributing plastic bags in compliance with the U.S. territory's new law banning the sacks.
The "stop orders" were issued as inspectors visited more than 300 stores and businesses during the first week of the law that took effect Feb. 23, said American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency legal counsel Nathan Mease. About 70 percent of stores are complying, he said.
"We are very pleased with the cooperation the local businesses have shown," he said. He explained customers may still use the plastic shopping bags they already own.
The law only prohibits the distribution of plastic shopping bags by stores and businesses.
Stores are now giving their customers boxes, paper bags and cloth bags, instead of plastic. Some stores are importing reusable cloth bags to sell to customers.
Mease said the "stop orders" are one tool the agency may wield against businesses flouting the new regulation. It can also issue citations and seize plastic bags from stores.
Citations for those failing to comply range from $50, for a first offense, to up to $1,000 for repeat offenses.
Fines are only paid after the stores have been found guilty by a judge or the store admits guilt in court, Mease said.
Advocates for the ban say plastic bags litter the landscape, fill streams and pollute the ocean. They say sea turtles and other marine animals can become entangled in the bags, which take 500 to 1,000 years to decompose.
Gov. Togiola Tulafono said the law will help protect American Samoa's natural beauty and preserve its environment for future generations.
In Hawaii, Kauai and Maui counties implemented a ban on plastic bags in January. The Hawaii County Council this week delayed action on a bill that would do the same after three council members called for public hearings on the issue.
Oregon lawmakers are considering making their state the first in the nation to pass a statewide ban.