By Nina Wu
Paper or plastic?
With the passage of Senate Bill 1363 at the Hawaii Legislature this year, there would have been a fee for paper or plastic bags at checkout. It doesn't look like the bill will pass this year but watch out for a similar one next year.
The bill, modeled after one in Washington DC, would have been a good idea. It would have required large businesses to collect a fee for each single-use checkout bag provided to a customer.
As the bill was written, the fee would have been 10 cents, though it seems to have fluctuated as high as 25 cents and as low as 5 cents. Interestingly enough, it also would have offered a waiver for low-income consumers on federal programs or food stamps.
Instead of a waiver, why not offer them free reusable bags?
Businesses would have been allowed to keep 20 percent of the fees, subject to taxes. On Maui and Kauai counties, which banned plastic checkout bags this year, the fee would apply to paper bags.
So for the first time, it seems as if environmental groups and businesses like Safeway actually agreed on this bill which aims to reduce single-use plastic bags, though they didn't see eye to eye on all the details.
I think it would actually make people stop, and think twice about plastic bags, and hopefully, change some lifestyle habits.
It's pretty much a mindless thing for most people — after all, we've got busy lives. We go to the supermarket, and at checkout, they automatically shuffle everything into plastic bags. That's customer service, after all.
I've already written a few columns on the plastic bag monster under the sink, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the bits and pieces of plastic that don't break down etc. Don't forget the green sea turtles that ingest the bags, mistaking them for jellyfish.
It's alarming and heartbreaking to see images of Laysan Albatross chicks with stomachs full of plastic bits and pieces in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Much of the flying fish eggs the albatross like to eat is attached to plastic marine debris which end up in the stomachs of chicks.
Retailers pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide the bags. There are costs to produce the bags out of petroleum, and there are costs to the marine environment, as well as costs to taxpayers who foot the bill for counties that clean up the bags. The costs to the community are an overflowing landfill that no one wants in their backyard, especially on an island.
If you BYOB (bring your own bag), then you won't have to worry about any fees. I've been bringing reusable bags to the supermarket for awhile now, and it's worked out just fine.
It helps to keep a stash of reusable bags in your trunk – as many as a dozen — if that's how many you need for your load of groceries. They've even become a fashion statement – great.
A Chico bag (which fits in your purse) comes in handy on those last-minute trips to the market when you don't have all of your reusable bags with you.
You know what's nice about it? Having no plastic bag monster under your sink.
Most supermarkets here also offer a 5-cent credit per bag at checkout, except for Safeway, which offers a discount on its line of green products. Hope that will continue.
Safeway submitted testimony saying it supported the bill, and that a fee is a preferable way to encourage consumers to bring their own bags. In San Francisco, the first U.S. city to ban plastic checkout bags, Safeway says it ended up spending more than $1 million to offer paper bags, which aren't necessarily better for the environment.
Readers have said, but what if I recycle the bags to line my wastebaskets or to pick up dog poop? Reusing a bag is a good idea, and even better, recycling it. But we also need to reduce.
If you read the bill, there are still plenty of options — the bill would not have included newspaper bags, produce bags, the bags used to wrap frozen foods, bread, meat, fish, flowers or plants, door-hanger bags, or garment bags.
I think it's time to BYOB.