By Nina Wu
More than a dozen demonstrators staged a plastic bag protest in front of Wal-Mart on Keeaumoku Street at noon today. Donning self-made creations constructed from thick, plastic bags (the ones they were protesting), the demonstrators from Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and Surfrider Foundation put on an impromptu, sidewalk fashion show.
The purpose was to raise awareness over the harm that stores like Wal-Mart create when handing out a thicker version of plastic bags to customers at checkout which, they say, defies the spirit of the plastic bag ban that went into effect on Oahu July 1.
"What we're trying to do is shine a light on the fact that a lot of our local retailers are still skirting the law when it comes to the plastic bag ban," said Sustainable Coastlines director Kahi Pacarro, donning a plastic bag tie.
The Honolulu version of the law contains a loophole which allows retailers to give customers reusable bags, which is defined as a "bag with handles that is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse." It can be made of cloth or other washable fabric or a "durable material suitable for reuse," which includes plastic that is at least 2.25 mils thick.
Wal-Mart is not the only one handing out the thicker plastic bags, which angered Anna Sabino and prompted her to start a change.org petition earlier this month. Longs Drugs, Times Supermarket, City Mill, Don Quijote, Tamura's, Thinker Toys and Chevron are culprits, too. However, Wal-Mart actually goes so far as to write the word "Sustainable" on its thicker, plastic bags, which is greenwashing at its finest.
While twirling and marching down the sidewalk, the demonstrators, which included kids dressed in plastic bag frocks, women in frilly, plastic skirts and a fully-decked-out plastic bag monster man, held signs to educate consumers about the harm that plastic bags cause.
They also handed out free, reusable canvas bags — part of a Bag A New Friend campaign that Sustainable Coastlines is running. Here's how it works: When you go shopping, bring an extra bag or bags to give to others that may have forgotten theirs or others that don't have any. Post it to social media with #BagANewFriend.
The protestors' signs said:
>> "10 percent of the plastic produced every year worldwide winds up in the ocean." — United Nations Environment Programme.
>> "The average American family takes home 1,500 plastic bags a year." — Natural Resources Defense Council.
>> "About 2 million plastic bags are used every minute around the world." — Earth Policy Institute
While the thicker version of these plastic bags are available, they do as much harm to the environment as the thinner versions. They end up littering beaches and waterways, entering the ocean ecosystem and take even longer to break down. They may be reused a few more times than the thinner version, but are generally used only once.
Of the four isles (Kauai, Maui, Oahu and Hawaii island), only Oahu offers this loophole. Oahu's plastic bag ban also allows for compostable bags, even though there is no commercial composting facility on the isle.
The whole idea is really to reduce the amount of plastic.
The message of the demonstration was lost on Rose Pristow of Honolulu, who was sitting nearby. When she shops Wal-Mart, she takes the plastic bag for her purchases, which she had tucked into a reusable bag from Whole Foods Market. She takes the plastic bags to line her garbage cans at home, and does not see an issue with littering as long as she makes sure they go into the trash can.
"I'm for the environment, but I didn't understand what was going on," she said.
She was surprised to learn that some of the plastic bags end up at the beach.
Another shopper, Susan (declined to give last name), said she's been bringing her own bags since the ban went into place. On Thursday, she ended up buying more than she initially planned at Wal-Mart, so she used a few cardboard boxes to corral her purchases in the shopping cart, Costco-style. She keeps a bag full of other reusable bags ready in her car.
The majority of shoppers exiting Wal-Mart appear to take the thicker, plastic bags for their purchases, which are free, although a reusable bag is also available by the checkout stand for 50-cents. Many other retail stores, such as Safeway, are using paper bags while offering reusable bags for sale. Foodland offers customers who bring their own bags 5-cents credit per bag or Hawaiian Airlines miles. Some retailers, like Ross, will begin charging a fee for paper bags with handles, starting August.