Mayor, Council chair say plastic bag ban may need toughening

Mayor, Council chair say plastic bag ban may need toughening
Published: Jul. 13, 2015 at 8:25 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 13, 2015 at 9:19 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Both Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Council Chair Ernie Martin told Hawaii News Now Monday they don't like loopholes in Oahu's new plastic bag ban and are open to toughening the law, as environmentalists assail the new law as toothless.

Environmentalists are upset because the law, that took effect July 1, allows retailers to use thicker plastic bags. Times Supermarket, Longs Drugs and Walmart on Oahu, are using those thick plastic bags, a move environmentalists said breaks the spirit of the plastic bag ban.

"It's a great step forward, but a number of stores have taken a step back," said Stuart Coleman of the Surfrider Foundation.

The new law allows plastic bags if they are made of durable material suitable for re-use, that's at least 2.25 mils thick.

"And now the grocery stores, which are the biggest offenders, having so many plastic bags, are doing these thicker bags which will now take 10 times as long to deteriorate," Coleman said.

The new law originally passed and was approved before Caldwell took office and he said he'd prefer an out-and-out plastic bag ban.

"The end of the day, I think the thicker bags have to go and compostable bags, while it's a great concept, and yes, we can burn them in our HPower facility and generate energy, if we want to compost them, we can't do it here," Caldwell said.

Martin said his preference also was an all-out ban.  But retailers were worried that would be too drastic, so Council members allowed those thicker, reusable plastic bags and merchants more than three years to comply.

"Personally, I'm a little disappointed by those merchants who have, I think, exploited, perhaps, a loophole in the law and chose to distribute thicker bags," Martin said.

Martin said wants to meet with merchants to get them to voluntarily stop using those thicker plastic bags, complying with the spirit of the law.

"Given no under choice, I think we would have to look at closing that loophole down the road.  I know the mayor has shared a similar opinion," Martin said.

Other large retailers are now using only paper bags, including Safeway, Foodland and Office Depot.

Both Martin and Caldwell said they want to gather more information since the law has only been in effect a few days and then decide how to perhaps close that loophole.

They said they think the law has improved the environment on Oahu because not as many of the old-style thin plastic bags are around anymore, compared to the thicker new-style bags.

"Because they're thicker, they don't blow as easily, they don't get stuck in trees, they don't break apart.  I'm not defending them, by the way, but I think it's a step in the right direction. Thicker versus thinner is better, at the end of the day the thick should be gone, too," Caldwell added. "I think best is no plastic, really.  And I think we'll get there. But it's a step-by-step process."

There's also a long list of 11 exceptions to plastic ban exemption, including takeout bags for restaurants and lunch wagons, newspaper bags for home delivery, laundry and dry cleaning bags and bags for fish, fruits and plants, all of which are still allowed.

That's in contrast to neighbor island plastic bag bans, which are more all encompassing.

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