POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 3, 2011
At Kmart in Lihue, the cashiers are still apologizing with every transaction: "Sorry. We don't have bags. Sorry, yeah? No more bags." At Longs Kukui Grove, purchases are placed in brown paper bags labeled RECYCLEABLE in big, almost defensive letters, as if to say "Yeah, it's a bag, but it's not a BAD bag." Sueoka store in Koloa has a row of boxes along the wall by the front windows; customers haul their groceries to their cars in cut-top cardboard crates that say Quilted Northern or Del Monte Pork and Beans. At Big Save, customers wheel their shopping carts full of uncovered groceries out into the rain as they mutter the mantra: "Just like shopping at Costco. Just like shopping at Costco."
The ban on plastic bags on Kauai began in January and six months later people are still trying to get used to the change. It was set up so that the responsibility would be on businesses. Those who persisted in handing out plastic bags face fines of $250 to $1,000 a day. But really, the burden is on the customers.
While some shoppers are bringing their own reusable totes from home, most of the people pushing carts across Walmart Lihue's parking lot seem to be going commando, their purchases rolling free in the metal mesh and then tossed loose into the trunk of the car.
Getting used to bringing a cloth tote from home for the Froot Loops and short ribs is one thing, but at home, on the other end of the plastic-bag life cycle, the absence of the ubiquitous catch-alls is even more complicated. Plastic bags may be a wasteful menace, but those pesky packages were definitely reused, from bringing eggplant to the neighbor, wrapping wet swimsuits for the trip from the beach to home, to packing shoes for a mainland trip.
Lunch counters are still allowed sandwich-sized plastic bags for individually prepared items, but a plastic bag the size of a manapua or muffin isn't big enough to line the bathroom waste basket or to pick up after a dog larger than a Chihuahua. Are people buying bags to pick up after their dogs? Or are they leaving it all behind and calling it "fertilizer"?
At beach parks, the plastic-bag ban is meant to lead to less litter, but you don't have to look far to find trash cans overflowing with loose trash, items that might have been more contained if tied in handled plastic bags.
A similar ban is in effect on Maui, though Oahu and the Big Island are still bagging with reckless abandon. Folks on those islands buy their stuff and carry it to the car without even having to think out the process. Imagine.
All that is not to say the ban on plastic bags is bad, just that the effects of the ban are far-reaching and long-lasting, and that habits are hard to change.
Lee Cataluna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.