Paper or plastic? How about neither?

Scott Lautner
Scott Lautner

By Ben Gutierrez - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - You see them everywhere. And that's the problem, according to environmentalists.

Disposal plastic bags with handles. The kind you get from your local grocery store. They're already banned on Kauai and Maui.

Now, there's a bill in the state legislature that would require you to pay a ten cent fee for each bag when you buy merchandise, such as groceries. Hawaii would become the first state to have such a law, if it passes.

"It creates a situation where we're trying to move people away from the single use, the disposable bags," said Robert Harris, director of the Hawaii Chapter of the Sierra Club. "And by putting a small fee, it allows people to switch completely to reusable bags."

The fee won't apply only to disposable plastic bags, which are blamed for polluting the environment. It also would apply to paper bags, which environmentalists and retailers say are not the solution.

"Paper bags are much more bulky, they cost ten times more money as paper bags," said Lauren Zirbel of the Hawaii Food Industry Association, which supports the measure. "So you're seeing retailers on the neighbor islands taking some pretty large hits because of that."

"For a plastic bag, it's actually about one penny per bag," Harris said. "For paper, it's about ten cents per bag. So the retailers are estimating that when they switch to paper, they're actually spending, on average, about $30,000, per store, per month."

The bill has a lot of support from retailers and environmentalists, but also from consumers, although they have a lot of questions.

"Yes, it's a good idea," said shopper Chandan Dutta in Chinatown. "But will it be included when we purchase? Will the shop itself take that, or do we pay separately for that?" he asked.

The bill says the fee would be included on your receipt, in much the same way the current recycling fee is included when you purchase soda in a recyclable can or bottle.

Stores would be allowed to keep 20 percent of the fees, with the rest going into the state general fund.

But not everyone is convinced that the fee will permanently change shoppers' behavior, or that it will be good for their business.

"Here in Chinatown, if we charge ten cents a bag, it would kill 50 percent of our business overnight if we were required to do that," said produce vendor Scott Lautner. "So that's something we'd have to absorb as a vendor."

The measure has several exemptions. It would not include smaller plastic bags used to package loose items, such as produce or candies, or small hardware items. Bags used to protect or transport prepared foods or bakery goods also would not be included under the bill.

Harris said that the District of Columbia implemented a similar law last year, and saw an 85 percent drop in the use of disposal single-use bags, resulting in fewer of them polluting the environment.

If the measure becomes law, it would take effect in January of next year.

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