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Editorial | Island Voices

Give merchants, users time to adjust to plastic bag ban

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The Hawaii Food Industry Association (HFIA) and Retail Merchants of Hawaii (RMH) wholeheartedly support the broadest use of reusable tote bags as the ultimate solution, in retailers’ preparation and initial response to the plastic grocery bag ban that went into effect July 1. However, despite signs and other forms of advance notification, some customers were caught off guard while others simply forget to bring tote bags.

The recent ban initiated a transition period for both Oahu’s retailers and their customers. We all want this ban to work and some retailers are accommodating customers who forget to bring in their reusable fabric bag by selling or providing reusable plastic bags as permitted by ordinance.

Many of our retailers provide items that perspire, such as refrigerated liquids and frozen items and a single-use paper bag may rip while holding these items. These retailers made a decision to encourage the use of reusable bags while also providing a bag that is functional for consumers to use, until it becomes an everyday routine, which is what we hope for.

As retailers, it is our responsibility to keep prices reasonable and to provide quality service by accommodating our customers. However, small and medium businesses often struggle to meet new regulations and bans because many lack the necessary resources.

Although the ban may seem like a small cost, we must be mindful that bans in general significantly affect businesses, especially those that are small and local, whose livelihood must flourish in order to continue growing Hawaii’s economy.

During this transition, we believe reusable plastic bags will have minimal environmental impact on Oahu because once disposed of, they are converted into electricity at H-POWER’s wasteto-energy facility, which is capable of producing up to 10 percent of Oahu’s power, and reduces our dependence on imported oil. According to the city’s Department of Environmental Services, one ton of trash produces saleable energy equivalent to 60 gallons of oil, decreasing Hawaii’s need for imported petroleum.

We support reusable tote bags and we support the right of choice — for retailers to have the choice of which, if any, bags to provide and for customers to choose which bags to use. Ultimately, during this transitional period, our goal is to maximize and encourage the use of reusable bags while having the option to provide plastic bags, within the parameters allowed by law, to our customers without burdening Hawaii’s businesses and residents or removing their right to choose.

Hawaii is one of the most expensive places in the world to feed a family and retailers are working hard to not increase the price of food and goods by encouraging consumers to bring their own bag.

If we work together and all use reusable bags, we can enact this ban and keep prices down. We are hopeful that consumers will bring their own bag, as this is the best option for everyone and the best thing for the environment. Let’s give Oahu customers a chance to understand how beneficial it is to switch to reusable bags, just like many of us learned to switch some years ago.

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