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Bag ban theory Plastic sack prohibition to begin Jan. 17

Businesses will get one written warning for failing to comply with the county’s new plastic bag ban, set to take effect Jan. 17.

But, Department of Environmental Management officials said, their goal is to educate retailers and restaurant owners properly, so the businesses understand the rules backing up the ban. Doing so may prevent the county from needing to levy any fines, as has been the case on Maui and Kauai, where such bans are already in place, Recycling Coordinator Linda Peters said Thursday.

“We don’t want this to be a punitive thing,” Peters said during a public hearing at the West Hawaii Civic Center. “We want to work with businesses.”

No one provided public testimony during the hearing, and only four members of the public attended. One person, who did not provide her name, did ask Peters why the rules didn’t prohibit paper bags, and why biodegradable plastic bags were not allowed as an option for retailers.

Peters, noting the County Council established the ban’s broader parameters, said the council didn’t indicate paper bags should be outlawed. Focusing on public education, including an awareness campaign of banners, leaflets, buttons and television commercials, will help Hawaii Island residents decide to switch to reusable bags and eschew single-use ones, she added.

The council decided against allowing compostable plastic bags for several reasons, she added, including “because we have an island environment. Turtles aren’t going to differentiate between a biodegradable bag and a petroleum-based one.”

If the department does have to issue fines, the business being fined will have the option to appeal the violation to the Environmental Management Commission, Peters said. The department director will also have some discretion to adjust the fine amount, depending on the circumstances.

Retailers will be able to sell customers plastic bags for one year, through early 2014. After that, retailers will not be allowed to provide the two-handled, single-use plastic bags for free or for sale, Peters said.

Department of Environmental Management Acting Director Dora Beck said she will make her decision about the proposed rules no later than Dec. 19. She won’t make a decision before Dec. 12, though, which is the date of the second public hearing, scheduled for 1 p.m. at the Aupuni Center in Hilo.

Once Beck finalizes the rules, Mayor Billy Kenoi will also need to approve them.