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Days of the plastic bag numbered in Hawaii


The days of collecting plastic grocery bags are coming to an end.

On Jan. 17, all Big Island businesses, including grocery stores, restaurants and other retailers, will be prohibited from distributing single-use plastic bags.

Over the past year, consumers have been dishing out funds for plastic bags at checkout lines. The fee was part of the plastic bag reduction ordinance adopted in 2011. The ordinance gave businesses one year — from 2013 to 2014 — to eliminate plastic bag inventories and allowed them to distribute the bags to customers in exchange for a small fee.

Toby Taniguchi, executive vice president of store operations for KTA Super Stores, said he’s had a “wide gamut of reactions” from customers since the ban took effect.

“Customers and patrons understand and want to do what’s right for our environment,” he said. “Individuals not fully aware of the legislation may not understand our position, but for the most part, individuals understand and see the larger picture, which is how do we do right by our environment and how do we make it better?”

Scott Hayes, store manager at Target in Hilo, said the store has had no problem adjusting to the new system and there’s been a lot of positive feedback from shoppers.

“From my understanding, it’s a good thing. Target is really good at reacting to the community and for me, having been in Hawaii for the last two years, I’ve noticed the culture is very conscious of the environment and the earth so to work to have no plastic going into the landfills is a good thing. I’ve had very little, very few complaints,” he said.

Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi approved the legislation Dec. 30, 2011. He explained in a letter that 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.”

Customers will be able to use reusable bags or paper bags while shopping. Taniguchi, who said KTA stores will be implementing a charge for paper bags as well, said the passing of the bill was a “step in the right the direction.”

“There’s way more to the topic. Switching to a paper bag is not better from a carbon footprint standpoint. Modern-day landfills don’t let it dispose. It takes more energy. Switching to a paper bag is not the answer,” he said.

Bobby Jean Leithead Todd, director of the Department of Environmental Management, the entity responsible for enforcing the ban, said the focus is on plastic bags because paper bags do not present the same dangers.

“I think a lot of the impetus and a lot of the pushing to get rid of the plastic bags wasn’t purely about the environment, it had a lot to do with littering,” she said.

Leithead Todd said, so far, the ban has been going smoothly.

“Actually, we haven’t had many complaints over the past year. There was a problem with one business and we sent them a letter addressing the requirements of the law,” she said.

First-time violators will receive a notice informing them of their violation and a cease and desist order. 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.

Leithead Todd anticipates there won’t be many challenges when it comes enforcement.

“Because, hey, businesses don’t want to be in violation with the law,” she said. “It’s a hassle they don’t need. Most of them stock up bags or will offer you paper. I don’t envision significant problems with this at all.”

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

When the ban goes into effect in mid-January, Honolulu will be the only county in Hawaii without a ban on plastic bags. The Honolulu City Council passed a bag ban for Oahu, but it doesn’t go into effect until 2015.

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