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County’s plastic bag ban raises cleanliness concerns

January 31, 2014 - 9:51pm

A Hawaii County ban on single-use plastic bags has left some Big Island cashiers concerned about the cleanliness of customers’ personal totes while shopping.

“The key here is that they need to wash their bags,” Sharde Conol, supervisor at KTA Puainako, said Wednesday afternoon.

The ban went into effect Jan. 17. Stores and distributors on the island had one year to transition to enforcing the ban.

Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi approved the legislation Dec. 30, 2011, after hearing testimony. He said the bill was passed, in part, because plastic bags are “unwelcome as litter to our landscape” and “they can be dangerous to marine mammals that mistakenly ingest them as food.”

Although Conol said she believes transitioning out of using plastic bags is a positive change from an environmental standpoint, there are some issues concerning the use of personal bags while shopping.

“The biggest problem we’re seeing is with animal hair being all over the bags,” she said.

Risa Kincaid, executive team leader at Target in Hilo, said her cashiers have also complained that customers are using unkempt sacks, but hasn’t heard of anything “too alarming.”

Marissa Mendoza, office clerk at Sack N’ Save in downtown Hilo, said she’s noticed a trend as well, but doesn’t think it’s the grocery store’s problem.

“It’s their groceries being packed into their dirty bags,” she said.

Janice Okubo, public information officer for the Department of Health in Honolulu, said any contamination issues caused by unsanitary bags would fall under the establishment’s jurisdiction.

“In terms of bags, we don’t see any regulatory problems. Things that happen under the store’s control, including if anything is brought in, the stores are responsible,” Okubo said.

Currently, Bobby Jean Leithead Todd, director of the Department of Environmental Management, is in charge of enforcing the ban, but said she’s not in charge of keeping the sanitary issue in check.

“There’s nothing we can do about that; the law does not address that,” she said.

She recommends shoppers clean their bags after using them to help quell any problems.

“I personally have moved more and more toward bags I can throw into the washing machine,” she said. “If they get dirty, use a washing machine.”

Leithead Todd said she hasn’t noticed or issued any violations of the bag ban since Jan. 17.

First-time violators will receive a notice informing them of their violation and order them to cease and desist. Merchants found in violation of the law a second time could receive a $250-per-day penalty, and those in violation for a third time face a fine of $500 per day. For subsequent violations, the fine is $1,000 per day.

The law states handle-free plastic bags can still be used for bulk items such as meat, fish, nuts, grains, fresh produce, small hardware, garments and prescription drugs.

Email Megan Moseley at mmoseley@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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