Honolulu Passes Ban on Plastic Bags

Civil Beat photo

KAPOLEI — Honolulu could soon become the fourth and final county in Hawaii to implement a ban on single-use plastic checkout bags.

With proposed statewide legislation to create a fee on both paper and plastic bags unlikely to pass at the Hawaii Legislature, the Honolulu City Council took matters into its own hands and passed a ban by a 7-1 vote Wednesday at its meeting in Kapolei.

If signed by Mayor Peter Carlisle, the ban would take effect in July 2015, giving retailers more than three years to burn through their existing inventories and prepare for the increased reliance on paper bags and reusable bags. The legislation was introduced and championed by council Chair Ernie Martin.

"I always believed that as long as people litter their plastic bags, something needs to be done. Right now, properly discarded plastic bags are incinerated for energy at H-Power," Carlisle said via email. "I want to acknowledge the City Council for wrestling with this issue and attempting to resolve the concerns of retailers, consumers and all Oahu citizens who care for the environment."

Carlisle said he'd review the bill and accept public input before making a decision on whether to sign it.

The vote pleased environmentalists — including leaders from both the Sierra Club and Surfrider — and drew a loud ovation from those assembled at Kapolei Hale. But during testimony, representatives of some of the state's largest grocery companies warned that a ban on plastic bags would serve as a hidden tax because they'd have to raise prices to cover increased costs from using bulkier paper bags.

The retailers had supported the more comprehensive statewide proposal, which would have charged a fee on both paper and plastic. They said that program would go further to change behavior and increase use of reusable bags.

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