No More Plastic Bags for Hawaii

Groundbreaking legislation passed to boost environmental protection efforts.

The Maui County Council voted unanimously last week to pass critical legislation in the second and final reading of the "Plastic Bag Reduction Bill," which prohibits the distribution of non-biodegradable plastic bags at the point of sale beginning January 11, 2011.

For Council Member Michael Molina, who introduced the measure in July 2007, the passage of this bill means better days ahead for the environment, wildlife, and public health and safety.

"Cities and countries throughout the world are experiencing the destructive impacts plastic bags are having on their environment," said Molina. "It's time that we in Maui County and the State of Hawaii join the worldwide effort to eliminate the distribution of plastic bags."

The bill states that businesses are prohibited from providing plastic bags to their customers at the point of sale for the purpose of transporting groceries or other goods. Although a bag fee is not mandated, the bill adds that nothing in the chapter shall preclude a business from making reusable bags or recyclable paper bags available for sale or without charge to customers at the point of sale for the purpose of transporting groceries or other goods.

The County of Maui Solid Waste Division took steps to help the public reduce its dependence on single-use, non-biodegradable bags early on and has been distributing reusable shopping bags since 1998.

Mayor Charmaine Tavares has also distributed thousands of free reusable shopping bags in an effort to increase public awareness about the dangers of plastic material in the ocean environment, including bags.

"I appreciate the Council's hard work on this bill, and Council Member Molina's initiative in introducing this ground-breaking legislation," said Mayor Tavares. "This important action is intended to help protect diminishing natural resources, and while the bill will not be implemented until 2011, many steps can be taken now to prepare for the new law, including public education and encouraging businesses and shoppers to utilize reusable bags."

In a survey conducted by the County's Office of Economic Development (OED), which is administered by the Office of the Mayor, 92 percent of the businesses surveyed said they supported prohibiting the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags, and would be willing to stop using them in their business. Many also indicated they were already actively making the switch to reusable bags.

OED surveyed approximately 50 small businesses in Maui County; the businesses represented were primarily retail stores and a small number of restaurants.

"We wanted to work with the Council to make sure that in these hard economic times, the bill would not cause an undue hardship on our small businesses," Tavares noted. "The response was overwhelmingly in support of reducing the amount of plastic bags, especially with a 'soft approach' that includes a reasonable timeline for the conversion to take place."

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