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Editorial | Island Voices

Broad coalition supporting bag fee reflects proposal’s timeliness

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Today’s social and environmental challenges are complex, and responding to them effectively requires a broad perspective to help define wise solutions.

I have learned through experience that solutions developed by a multi-disciplinary team of engineers, scientists and business people are consistently superior and cost-effective over the long term. Multiple perspectives are just as important in addressing many of society’s other challenges: behavioral challenges, for instance, like our addiction to plastic bags. That’s why it is heartening to watch the broad coalition of people who are working on getting the throwaway bag fee bill (Senate Bill 2511) passed this year.

One sign that this is a bill whose time has come is the fact that so many voices from different perspectives are coming together to help ensure that this bill gets through this year.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources; environmental watchdogs like the Sierra Club, the Surfrider Foundation, The Nature Conservancy; school children from Pearl City Highlands Elementary School, Le Jardin Academy and Sacred Hearts Academy; Girl Scouts like young Diana Sellner and fellow Scouts from Troop 404 and their parents and their troop leader; students from the University of Hawaii, Chaminade and Hawaii Pacific University; grocery stores like Safeway and Times; as well as many other ordinary citizens representing the full spectrum of society, are all doing their part to say that the time is now for this bill.

This is a bill about the future well-being of these islands and all those who call it home. It is the logical next step in an effort that has been led by the neighbor islands with their county bans on plastic bags.

Those county bans will stay in place. This statewide bill that levies a small fee on consumers who opt for a plastic or paper bag instead of bringing their own reusable bag when shopping for groceries will generate revenue to help pay for watershed protection and conservation.

It’s worth remembering that our addiction to plastic bags is a phenomenon of recent decades. Our parents and grandparents went shopping for decades with their own bags and did just fine. Then in the 1950s, store-supplied paper bags became the standard. The low production cost (compared to paper) of plastics brought an explosion of plastic packaging products upon the retail world in the 1980s and 1990s. But the automatic dispensing of plastic bags with every purchase, no matter how small, and our unthinking, reflective acceptance has led to unanticipated problems.

The cost to produce a plastic product does not include the cost of its disposal or the cost of its adverse impact upon the ecosystem that surrounds and supports us. Marine life and seabirds are the most obvious casualties of our addiction, even if none of us intend to cause such harm. Plastics entering the coastal aquatic environment are known to have adverse impacts at many trophic levels within the ecosystem, only the most obvious of which we can see. But this trend can be reversed.

Laws designed to stem human beings’ runaway addiction to plastic bags have had a dramatic impact domestically and internationally. Places like Ireland, China and Washington, D.C., have achieved a 50-85 percent reduction in plastic bag waste. Our landfills will thank us. More important, our children will, too.

I would like to add my support to this effort and encourage legislators to demonstrate Hawaii’s leadership in passing this bill. It will be the first state bill of its kind in the nation. It’s time. The community is ready for it. And it will help protect the watershed that makes life on these islands possible.

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