Plastic bag caught in the fence near Kakaako Waterfront Park. Photo by Nina Wu.
I think it's happening.
Despite sluggishness, and resistance, I detect a BYOB — bring your own bag — movement gaining momentum in Hawaii. Starting Friday, Hawaii county joins Maui and Kauai counties in officially banning conventional, plastic carryout bags.
Honolulu, the most populated of the isles, should have been at the forefront, but instead will be the last to join the ban, which takes effect in July 2015 (despite the law being signed by former Mayor Peter Carlisle in 2012). Hawaii, one of the states most vulnerable to the damaging effects of plastic in our oceans, should have been at the forefront of the plastic bag ban, as well.
But let's not focus on what should have been. Let's focus on the here and now.
Here, in Honolulu, you can take steps to reduce plastic bags, now, by using reusable bags. It's low-cost, even no-cost (because you don't have to go out and buy reusable bags, though plenty are available) and requires just a little bit of effort. I notice more people in the checkout line bringing their own bags. I no longer get my groceries automatically swept into a plastic bag when I bring my own bags (plus bringing your own bag is an option at self checkout). And at some stores, they actually say, "Thanks for bringing a bag!"
It's also a matter of wanting to reduce the use of plastic bags, because I imagine some people are actually hoarding them in preparation for the day when stores will no longer be giving them out at checkout.
Here are the top three excuses:
1. I FORGOT MY BAGS. One way to avoid this is to keep them in the car, or whatever means of transportation you have to the grocery store. You can also keep a small one (foldable in a pouch, like chicobag, envirosax, etc.) in your purse or backpack, handy for a quick run to the store. Or just use your backpack. Speaking of bags, I've found, from a practical point of view — that the large, square-bottomed and insulated ones work best. Trader Joe bags have also been great, flat on the bottom and durable. I've been bringing my own bags to the grocery store consistently over the years, and trying to remember to bring them to places like Long's Drugs and other retail outlets, too. Some boutiques are also starting to hand over purchases in reusable bags — a trend I like.
2. THERE AREN'T ENOUGH BAGS. Right. So get 15 to 20 reusable bags or more, if you need to, and go for the large and sturdy ones. You can also use beach totes, backpacks and baskets. If you're just heading from the store straight to your car with a shopping cart, you don't really need a double plastic bag to carry that six-pack of Coke or gallon of milk. Follow Costco's lead and reuse an empty cardboard box.
3. I REUSE THE BAGS AT HOME. Sure, reuse is one of the three R's. But reduce comes before reuse. I understand. I use them to line my trash cans, too. I end up getting takeout lunch handed to me in a plastic bag. There are alternatives. I have a dog, too, but I don't typically use grocery bags to pick up poop – preferring reused bread bags, newspaper bags and Biobags instead. This is a tough one, and I'll let you know if I find a good alternative.
I still need to work on it, myself. But we can all try a little more.
I think charging a fee for paper bags is a good idea, since they cost more to produce and aren't necessarily any better for the environment. Seattle has done just that. The plastic bags that stores give out aren't necessarily free, either, but come with a cost that's probably calculated in overhead and passed on to the consumer. The Sierra Club cited a study in Seattle that determined a net cost of about $121 per ton of plastic bags that end up in the landfill annually. The cost to the environment is even higher.
Come on. No more excuses. You can bring your own bags to the store, some of the time or all of the time, even before the law kicks in next year.