comscore Small effort at checkout can help the environment | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Features | The Green Leaf

Small effort at checkout can help the environment


Whenever you make a purchase — whether lunch, a drink or a trinket — it automatically gets plunked into a plastic bag after you pay for it at the cash register.

It takes some thought to say, "No thanks," "No need" or even a lengthier "Thanks, but I don’t need a bag." Time and time again, you have to make that conscientious effort to say, "No, really."

Now why would you need a little plastic bag when buying a pack of chewing gum or a candy bar that could go directly into your purse or pocket? And the plastic bag? Let’s face it, even though you could reuse it, it will probably be chucked away in the trash.

I understand people who would want one if the items they bought were wet, if there was condensation or a smelly fish involved. But expecting your purchase to be put in a bag as part of customer service has become so ingrained into our consumer culture that we need to stop and ask ourselves why?

Sure, that bag might get reused as a wastebasket liner or to pick up your pet’s poop. More likely, they will accumulate in a big "plastic bag monster" under the kitchen sink where they won’t be recycled.

You’ve already heard the sermon over and over: Plastic can take 1,000 years to break down. It pollutes the beaches, waterways and roadways and can endanger marine wildlife that ingests it. Plus, polyethylene bags are made from petroleum, which emits carbon and contributes to global warming.

The average family accumulates 60 plastic bags in just four trips to the grocery store, according to the Greenhouse Neutral Foundation. The United States goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually, requiring an estimated 12 million barrels of oil to make.

Then there’s the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a huge accumulation of plastic waste in the Pacific Ocean. And now a Great Atlantic Garbage Patch is being mapped.

On Jan. 11 a ban on conventional plastic checkout bags went into effect on Maui and Kauai. The Hawaii County Council came pretty close to approving a bag ban, while Oahu, the most populated isle in the state, lags behind.

Some stores have opted to offer paper bags as an option, but let’s face it: Paper’s not necessarily better.

Reusable bags, at least, are becoming fashionable and are available everywhere, from your local supermarket to Chinatown gift shops and high-end boutiques.

Many folks on Oahu often use HPOWER as an excuse for not trying. After all, it’s all going to get burned into energy anyway, so why worry about it?

Yet HPOWER can’t be the cure-all for every solid-waste concern, especially given that we had 20,000 tons of baled garbage at the Campbell Industrial Park waiting to be shipped to Washington state. When that deal fell through, it fell back on HPOWER but still couldn’t be incinerated all at once so as not to overwhelm the system.

In an ideal world it really shouldn’t take legislation to motivate people to take personal responsibility, to say, "I care," and "I’m going to bring my own bag to the store."

But people are busy, and who worries about the garbage patch in the ocean when you can’t see it?

It’s a new year. Why not make a resolution that you’ll at least try to bring your own bag to the grocery store or Longs, even if you don’t live on Maui or Kauai? Take it a step further by bringing reusable bags for fruits and vegetables in the produce section.

Remember, when it comes to plastic bags, just two simple words will do: "No, thanks."

Nina Wu writes a column about environmental issues on the fourth Monday of every month. E-mail her at


Comments have been disabled for this story...

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

Be the first to know
Get web push notifications from Star-Advertiser when the next breaking story happens — it's FREE! You just need a supported web browser.
Subscribe for this feature

Scroll Up