City council unanimously approves new plastic bag ban

Updated: Jul. 12, 2017 at 9:23 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu City Council unanimously voted to pass Oahu's new plastic bag ban Wednesday. The measure now heads to Mayor Caldwell's desk for his signature.

"This is a great win for the city and this is a great win for our environment," said city councilman Brandon Elefante, who introduced the bill.

The new law closes a loophole in the existing ban that allowed retailers to hand out thicker plastic bags, as long as there compostable and recyclable.

"We were the first state in the country to ban plastic bags, county by county, and so just to make sure we were actually doing what we committed to do five years ago in 2012 when we passed the original bill really makes a big difference," said Stuart Coleman, Surfrider Foundation.

The new bag ban will go into effect July 2018 and businesses will start charging 15-cents for each reusable plastic bag.

Then in 2020, all plastic bags will be banned and removed from stores.

Councilmembers say the measure is a compromise between two competing bills that were introduced earlier this year. One would've repealed the ban altogether and allow businesses to offer any type of bag for 10-cents each.

"There's just nothing as flexible as a plastic bag. I crumple it up and put it in my fanny pack and I can use it for multiple purposes," said Natalie Iwasa, who opposes the ban.

The other proposal would've strengthened the ban by eliminating all plastic bags.

While supporters are calling Wednesday night's council vote a major victory, some say the new ban still doesn't go far enough.

Environmental groups say they were hoping the ban would go into effect sooner and that there are still loopholes -- it doesn't apply to plastic bags for take out food or goods at farmers markets.

Volunteers from Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii (B.E.A.C.H.) say they surveyed the trash collected from a major cleanup at Ala Moana Beach Park the morning after the Fourth of July.

"It's a really good indication of what the community is using as far as plastic bags and paper bags go. We found the majority of plastic bags at the beach are the prepared food and drink take-out bags," said Suzanne Frazer, co-founder of B.E.A.C.H.

Frazer says she's hopeful Honolulu will join the other counties and eventually move towards a more aggressive ban.

"Kauai has, Maui has, and Hawaii has so it's not a giant leap to get that done," she said.

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