By Nina Wu
So, now it's official.
Honolulu mayor Kirk Caldwell signed Bill 38 into law on Thursday, Sept. 25, which would ban retailers from distributing plastic carryout bags — including biodegradable bags — starting July 1, 2015.
Oahu follows Maui, Kauai and the Big Island in banning plastic bags at checkout. But California, not Hawaii, became the first state to ban plastic bags yesterday.
In the first version of the bill, biodegradable bags would have been exempted, until environmentalists pointed out they can be just as damaging in the ocean. Compostable bags that meet the standards of ASTM International are allowed.
The bag ban, though not perfect, is great news for our environment. It's going to be an adjustment for folks who take plastic bags for granted.
In our recent Big Q poll, the majority of readers (346) said they plan to start hoarding plastic takeout bags in response to the news. I imagine some began hoarding as soon as they heard Honolulu was considering a ban.
How will you prepare for Oahu’s plastic-bag ban at stores, to be effective July 1?
- B. Start hoarding plastic bags (49%, 346 Votes)
- A. Start using recyclable bags (33%, 231 Votes)
- C. Already stopped using plastic (18%, 123 Votes)
It cracks me up because I know people like that — people like my mom, who believe if something's free, then take it. At the checkout at Marukai, I remember watching an elderly Japanese lady at a packing table by the exit, meticulously wrapping each purchase, big and small, in a separate plastic bag.
Why would you hoard plastic bags? So you can have a lifetime supply without ever having to purchase any plastic bags for your wastebaskets?
On the other hand, too many plastic bags do come with a cost – an overhead cost that businesses pass on to consumers for the convenience and a high environmental cost to this beautiful paradise we live in. On average, one shopper uses 500 bags in one year. Plastic bags are choking up our waterways, breaking into chemical-laden pieces in our oceans. They offer short-term convenience, but long-term consequences. Burning them at H-power is not the answer (not for the health of the air we breathe in).
Reducing them is part of the solution. That's what this law will do.
I've been bringing my own bags to the store for several years now, and believe me, life is still fine. Our home isn't completely plastic bag-free yet, due to visitors and other household members who sometimes bring them in. But there's just a small cluster, (which yes, I line my wastebaskets with), compared to a large monster ball beneath the kitchen sink. You start to discover that you don't need so many, certainly not that huge monster ball amount.
Here are some ideas on how we can use fewer plastic bags:
>> Consolidate. So maybe we don't need so many small, plastic bags. On trash day, dump the contents of your wastebasket into the larger trash bag before taking it out. Reduce the number of bags you use. When you have mostly dry waste, this isn't a big deal. Wet waste is tougher.
>> Compost. You can reduce trash by composting food waste - vegetable peelings, apple cores, leftover pasta and bread, and put it back into your garden.
>> Reuse. Think of the other plastic bags that we get which are still available. Get creative. Bread bags, newspaper bags, sack of potato bags. Bread bags and newspaper bags work just fine for picking up dog poop, another common complaint about the ban of plastic grocery bags.
>> Recycle. Are there things that you throw out in the trash which can actually be recycled? Remember, No. 1 and 2 plastics go in the blue bin. That includes pretty much all shampoo bottles, laundry detergent bottles, etc., as well as glass jelly jars, newspapers, corrugated cardboard pizza boxes, etc.
>> BYOB. Bring your own bags to the store - keep a dozen in your car, and at least one or two of the Chicobag, Envirosax or Baggu kind (that fold up small) in your purse or backpack. I like the large, square-bottomed and insulated ones I got for supporting PBS Hawaii. I also love the ones from Trader Joe's. Or, try the Costco method and keep an empty cardboard box in the car. I'm hoping people will be encouraged to bring their own bags instead of collecting piles of paper bags at home.
And when you have no choice but to use a bag for your wastebasket, there are alternatives out there like Biobags, which are compostable. Just don't let them get into the ocean.