Some supermarkets in Maui and Kauai counties are hoping more customers will get into the habit of bringing reusable bags, as stores and shoppers experienced the first week of the new ban on plastic shopping bags.
For now, many retailers are absorbing the higher cost of providing paper bags.
"Paper bags are more expensive. It’s three or four times more (than plastic)," said Rod Sueoka, manager of Sueoka Store on Kauai.
Beginning last Tuesday, no business in Maui County, including restaurants, may provide nonbiodegradable bags to customers at checkout. Businesses are required to provide recyclable paper or reusable bags for sale or at no charge.
In Kauai County, all commercial businesses, including restaurants and takeout food businesses, are required to replace plastic with recyclable or biodegradable bags. Businesses that fail to comply with the new law face fines of up to $1,000 a day.
Sueoka’s, a family-run business in Koloa, provides paper bags at no charge for customers who don’t have a reusable bag. So far, a lot of customers have not brought bring their own reusable bags. Sueoka said he hopes they will get into the habit of bringing them to lessen the cost for retailers.
Kilauea Town Market charges its customers 19 cents for each thick, paper bag — a couple cents more than the wholesale cost to the retailer — since the ban took effect. A couple of customers have been bringing in some of their old plastic bags to carry out their groceries, said store manager Rosie Morimoto.
Her advice to customers: "You have old tank tops at home, sew the bottom together," she said, recommending converting cotton tops to hold items.
Retailers have heard a number of customers say they miss the plastic bags because they would reuse them to line small trash containers in their bathrooms or to pick up after their dogs during walks.
On Maui, shoppers at Ah Fook’s Supermarket, a family-run market at the Kahului Shopping Center, receive a 5-cent credit when they use a reusable bag. Shoppers who do not have a reusable bag are charged a nickel for a paper bag. Though most customers are aware of the ban, they still forget to bring reusable bags, general manager Raymond Hew said.
Like Sueoka, Hew hopes more customers bring reusable bags to lessen the paper bag cost to retailers.
Gary Hanagami, executive director of the Hawaii Food Industry Association, said, "If a consumer is going to need paper, it’s going to cost the retailer more. It will then be passed on to the consumer."
Incentives like the 5-cent credit at Ah Fook’s and reusable bags sold at discounted prices are being offered by retailers to help change consumer habits.
"Our retailers understand there’s an environmental problem, especially on the neighbor islands because we don’t have HPOWER," Hanagami said.
At the family-owned Pukalani Superette in Makawao, Maui, 95 percent of the customers are aware of the new law, but a majority "have not got into the habit of bringing (reusable bags)," said store owner Myles Nakashima, anticipating that it will take a few months for customers to adjust to the new law.
For Pukalani customers, shoppers who spend $20 worth of items can buy a reusable bag for 50 cents. If the total is under $20, reusable bags can be purchased for 99 cents, 26 cents more than the wholesale cost to the retailer.
Nakashima suggested customers leave 10 reusable bags in their car, as customers have told him they left their bags at home after putting away groceries. "I got a dozen of them in my car," he said.
Paper bags are provided at no charge to Pukalani customers who don’t have reusable bags. But the free paper bags will likely be temporary, as the store plans to eventually charge customers because of the higher cost for paper bags. "I don’t think we’ll be able to keep this up," Nakashima said.