Hawaii County residents have a little more than a month before a ban on plastic bags at the store, farmers markets and restaurants begins taking effect.
The measure, passed by the Hawaii County Council late last year, allows businesses another year to charge for plastic bags and permits bags without handles for produce and meat products, as well as small bags for items such as loose nails or jewelry. The ordinance ordered the county’s Environmental Management Department to create specific rules regarding penalties and enforcement procedures. The draft rules include fines starting at $250 for vendors or businesses not complying with the rules.
The ban is set to take effect Jan. 17.
But Maui County’s Environmental Coordinator Rob Parsons said when his county implemented similar rules, the county never needed to fine anyone. And the intended results of stopping the use of plastic bags came to fruition quickly, he added.
“I’ve seen such a positive difference here, almost immediately, within one to three months,” Parsons said Monday. “The ever-present blowing plastic bags were just gone.”
Maui residents adapted quickly, he said, as did business owners. Parsons said he was surprised to see so many shops designing and selling their own reusable bags, displaying logos that can be used as advertisements whenever a user carries the bag in public.
Parsons said only a few businesses failed to comply with the order, which was phased in fairly gradually, when it took effect. The county didn’t have to cite anyone, either, because the businesses complied after county officials visited and explained the rationale behind the ban, he added.
Occasionally, he said he will still see a tourist in a checkout line ask for a plastic bag. When that happens, employees explain the rules and that the tourists may purchase a bag they can use for the remainder of their vacation, Parsons said.
Maui shops don’t charge extra for paper bags, but do offer a nickel discount for shoppers using their own reusable bags, much like many Hawaii Island businesses do, Parsons said. He added that he encouraged Mayor Billy Kenoi to sign the ordinance after the council approved it.
“It was a little bit of a behavioral shift,” he added. “By and large, people got with the program fairly quickly.”
Hawaii County’s Environmental Management Department has scheduled two public hearings on the draft rules. The first is at noon Thursday at the West Hawaii Civic Center. The second is 1 p.m. Dec. 12 at the Aupuni Center in Hilo.
Former Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann introduced the measure. He spent most of his first seven years on the council trying to get a bag ban measure enacted. The council heard plenty of testimony on the issue, and Kenoi told West Hawaii Today earlier this year he heard passionate appeals from opponents and proponents while he debated whether to sign or veto the measure.