Plastic bag ban nears, rules up for review


HILO — With just under three months before Hawaii County begins phasing out plastic bags at the store checkout, the Department of Environmental Management has created new rules for retail merchants and the public to follow.

The department plans to take its proposed rules out for public hearings in December.

The rules follow County Council action last December on a bill by Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann, who tried to pass bills restricting plastic bags for most of his seven years on the council. Hoffmann, now term-limited and out of office next month, said he will likely attend the West Hawaii public hearing in his role of private citizen.

Hoffmann said the proposed rules closely follow the language of the bill, although he would have preferred they be a little more strict.

“The important thing is to begin the process,” Hoffmann said Monday. “This is the first step in order to get some control over the plastic in our environment by promulgating rules already adopted by literally thousands of municipalities in the United States and entire countries in Europe.”

Hoffmann said the rules are similar to rules already in place on Maui and Kauai. The Honolulu City Council has also passed a bag ban for Oahu, but it doesn’t go into effect until 2015 in order to give the stores and suppliers time to exhaust their inventories, said Retail Merchants President Carol Pregill.

The merchants, who generally opposed the bills, had lobbied unsuccessfully for a statewide law, to make compliance easier for companies with locations on multiple islands.

The public hearings are scheduled for noon Dec. 6 at the West Hawaii Civic Center and 1 p.m. Dec. 12 at the Aupuni Center in Hilo.

The draft rules allow plastic bags without handles for fresh produce and meats, and small paper or plastic bags without handles for loose items such as jewelry, buttons, beads, ribbon, nails, nuts and screws and prescription drugs. The rules also allow garment bags such as are used by dry cleaners. Merchants will be allowed to sell or provide reusable bags free of charge to customers.

Bags made from plastic that are washable and are specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse and are at least 3 mils thick will be acceptable as a reusable bag, under the rules.

The draft rules set fines of $250 per day for the second notice of a violation, and $500 per day for the third notice of a violation. For subsequent violations, the fine is $1,000 per day.

Mayor Billy Kenoi had deliberated on the bill before signing it in January, saying he heard passionate appeals from both sides of the issue.

“In the end, this bill is not about plastic bags, politics or the Hawaii County Council. It’s about protecting our beautiful island,” Kenoi said in a message to council members. “While I may have preferred a slightly different version, I will sign Bill 17, Draft 2 because it is about the values we hold as a community to provide a positive future for our children.”

The draft rules are available at hawaiizerowaste.org/reuse/plastic-bag-ordinance-and-reuse/#.UIXOfoZ410Q

Pregill couldn’t comment Monday on Hawaii’s draft rules as she hadn’t had time to study them, but she said merchants will attend the public hearings to ensure their voices are heard.

“I know the ordinance itself was very broad,” Pregill said. “Everybody’s been waiting for the documents, the draft rules.”