In Hawaii, Maui and Kauai County are the official forerunners in banning single use plastic bags that easily find their way into water streams, ocean currents and the stomachs of birds and fish.
Single use plastic bags are already banned in 25% of the world. Maui county voted in 2008 to make it a law banning single use bags for businesses on those islands.
In October of 2009, followed suit, with the Kauai County Council adopted a new law that requires all retail establishments to provide only recyclable paper bags or reusable bags to their customers effective January 11, 2011. The purpose of the legislation is to reduce the significant impacts of plastic checkout bags on the environment, which include litter, an increasing burden on the landfill, and threats to marine life.
The ordinance encourages customers to bring their own reusable bags while shopping, and does not preclude retailers from offering checkout bags for sale to those customers who do not bring their own bags.
DID YOU KNOW?
- First introduced in 1977 as an alternative to paper bags, plastic bags now account for 4 out of every 5 bags handed out at grocery stores.
- Somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year.
- Solid materials, typically waste, that has found its way to the marine environment is called marine debris. It is known to be the cause of injuries and deaths of numerous marine animals and birds, either because they become entangled in it or they mistake it for prey and eat it.
- The world's "great garbage patch" can be found floating between Hawaii and San Francisco. This garbage patch is estimated to be twice the size of Texas and thousands of pounds of our discarded trash, mostly plastics.
- Each year the United States consumes 30 billion plastic grocery bags, requiring 12 million barrels of oil.
- The average American uses 300 to 700 plastic bags per year. If everyone in the United States tied their annual consumption of plastic bags together in a giant chain, the chain would reach around the Earth 760 times!
Plastic single use bag have been banned in San Fransisco since 2007, and LA county since 2010.
In the US, Oregon is likely to be the first state to ban single use plastic bags, and in Europe, Italy became the first European country to ban the bags altogether starting Jan 1, 2011.
In Europe, for years, shoppers have grown used to the habit of BYOB (Bring your own Bag) and have been carrying their own re-useable bags to the market, encouraged in part by taxes and levies on disposable bags, and part by a fashion industry that has used micro fibers and hip fabrics to make lightweight durable bags that can slip in your pocket.
When bans on plastic bags kick in Tuesday on Maui and Kauai, a partnership of businesses providing environmentally friendly alternatives and shoppers learning to quickly get into the habit of bringing re-usable bags with them to checkout counters will ease the transition to BYOB.
For sanitary reasons, thin plastic bags are permitted for raw meat, poultry, produce and bagging up bulk food like granola, dried fruit, rice, lentils, beans, flour etc. Dry cleaning plastic garment bags are exempt from the ban.
On Maui, all businesses, including restaurants, will be restricted from providing non-biodegradable bags to customers at checkout. Businesses will be required to provide recyclable paper or reusable bags for sale or at no charge.
The new ordinance is enforceable. Maui business owners face fines of $500 per day . If the violation continues, the daily fine will be doubled on the first day of each 30-day period. If compliance isn't reached, fines can be increased up to $1,000 per day.
On Kauai, all commercial businesses, including restaurants and takeout food establishments, will be restricted from providing plastic bags at checkout. Recyclable paper bags and biodegradable bags will replace plastic. Businesses that fail to comply face a $250 per day fine for the first notice, $500 a day for the second notice, and $1,000 a day for the third.
The Maui County Council banned plastic bags in August 2008 with Kauai County Council adopting the law in October 2009, and in both counties implementation begins next week. The goal is to become more environmentally friendly by reducing litter, burden on landfills, and threats to marine life. Ex-Mayor Harry Kim vetoed the big island ban in 2008 after it was approved by Hawaii's County Council, and Oahu deferred a ban in 2009, stating among the reasons that the plastics were converted to energy at Oahu's power plant.
Plastic bags are either restricted or completely banned in more than 25% of the world. Italy (famous for trash strikes) became the first EU country to completely ban the bags starting January 1, 2011. Belgium, Ireland and Hong Kong have legislation discouraging the use and encouraging the recycling of plastic bags by imposing a fixed or minimum levy for the supply of plastic bags or obliging retailers to recycle. Plastic bags have been banned in parts of Australia, Bangladesh, India (cows and plastic don't mix) Mexico and UK, South Africa and Thailand. In the United States San Francisco lead the way in 2007, joined by Los Angeles County in 2010.
Plastic bags are used once, but can take over 100 years to breakdown. Rather then being biodegradable, plastics break into tiny pieces and leech toxic chemicals into soils, lakes, rivers, and oceans and are easily mistaken as food by birds and fish.
On land, plastic bags are more then an eyesore, they can clog drainage systems and contribute to flooding, especially in rural or poor countries areas that do not have garbage collection. When plastic bags are washed out to sea, they can travel long distances, and are mistaken for food and cause harm to the turtles and dolphins that eat them.
After watching the Gulf of Mexico fill up with oil this summer, destroying tourism and fishing, people are rethinking the total actual cost of mining and refining oil based disposable products. Maui, famous for its wind, has had years of enduring unsightly plastic bags stuck on fences, and tourists commenting on the trees of Maui being festooned with white plastic bag "flowers". Snorkelers report observing sea turtles mistaking eating bags floating in the ocean that resemble jelly fish, the floating plastic gyre in the Pacific has becoming main stream news, and global concern. Ocean conscious people on Maui and Kauai are more then willing to give up the convienence of single use plastic bags. Already people shopping at Costco across the state have forgone the bag-it habit, in exchange for cheaper food prices that don't include the hidden cost of the "free" bag. Companies such as "Styrophobia" have been providing bio degradable corn starch derivatives as bio friendly options to plastic and styrofoam throughout Hawaii, many progressive take-out restaurants now offer these containers.
As Oahu still faces a toxic smoldering fire from trash stored for shipping, proponents of a state wide ban on plastic single use bags, say they will put forth another bill before this legislative session. In the meantime, the outer islands lead the way to helping train people to remember the environment when they get to the check out stands.
“I am glad that Maui County is taking this step to protect our environment,” said Mayor Alan Arakawa. “San Francisco passed this law several years ago but only to ban plastic bags at large supermarkets and chain drugstores. Our law addresses all businesses.”