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The plastic dilemma

February 25th, 2011


Welcome to The Green Leaf blog.

Here, I hope to be able to respond to readers who have questions or comments on my Green Leaf column, as well as post events, thoughts on living green, and news on environmental issues in the islands and globally.

In my last column about the plastic checkout bag bans on Maui and Kauai counties, a few of you responded with some good questions.

One that came up several times is, "What do I line my wastebasket or trash at home with if not with recycled plastic bags?"

That's a very good question, with no easy answer.

Recycling plastic bags is great — it means that it is getting another use other than to carry your groceries or merchandise home. It certainly does come in handy for picking up dog poop.

Most people probably have a generous stash of bags somewhere at home that will last them at least a year or more before any bans go into place.

Biodegradable bags are also available for purchase, but sure, it means you will have to pay out of pocket. Maybe you have to look at it this way — the cost of living green versus the cost of plastic waste in the environment.

The Green Leaf sought some answers and solutions and came up with the following:

  • Use biodegradable bags. You may have to purchase these, but some stores now offer them at checkout, including Down To Earth. Wahoo's Fish Tacos also offers them for takeout. If you live on Kauai county, stores are allowed to offer biodegradable bags that you can reuse.
  • In the past, people used to line wastebaskets with newspaper. If you don't have anything wet, this would probably work just fine.
  • A steel can that you can rinse out might also work.
  • Get creative and reuse bags that come with packaged goods, like the large plastic bag around a Costco-sized bundle of paper towels.
  • For dog waste, I recycle newspaper bags, which come every day, so I never run low. You can also recycle bread bags. I've also bought biobags (, which claim to be compostable, and are available at Down To Earth.

The city and county of Honolulu, apparently, is not a fan of alternatives to plastic when it comes to trash.

Suzanne Jones, spokeswoman for Honolulu's recycling program, says the county advises bagging all trash for disposal.

"And plastic bags work the best." she wrote in an email. "Bagging is important to prevent litter. It's also important to maintain good sanitation in your refuse cart. And it's particularly important to bag all organic material — food and pet waste — to prevent flies."

Furthermore, Jones says the county would not recommend that any household go bagless with no liner.

"Paper bags won't hold up with moisture," she wrote in an e-mail. "Newspaper will not secure against odors and flies. Trash and garbage should not be placed loose in the refuse cart."

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