State plastic-bag ban considered
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By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Lynda Arakawa
State lawmakers are considering a ban on nonbiodegradable plastic bags from supermarkets and retail stores and prohibiting the use of polystyrene foam takeout food containers.
The proposed ban on plastic bags appears to have lukewarm support in the Legislature so far, but some environmentalists and others say banning both the heavily used products statewide would help protect the environment.
They say plastic bags, for example, contribute to litter and landfills and endanger marine life when they blow into storm drains and oceans.
"It's an opportunity for Hawai'i to show the world the way that we should be treating disposable plastics," said Miwa Tamanaha, executive director of the Hawaiian-environmental alliance Kahea, noting that a lot of plastics generated outside of Hawai'i wind up here via Pacific currents. "The plastic that we generate now is going to be with us possibly forever (and) at least into the foreseeable future. Once we create it, we're stuck with it."
Opponents such as the Hawaii Food Industry Association - which represents dozens of grocery stores and suppliers - say a ban is not the solution.
Association president Richard Botti said the association has started campaigns to encourage people to knot bags before disposing of them to prevent them from blowing away, noting that biodegradable and compostable bags can also blow away. He said some stores have also set out bins to collect used plastic bags for recycling into products like plastic lumber.
Some stores here have also begun selling reusable shopping bags.
The House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee today is scheduled to make a decision on a bill to prohibit businesses from distributing non-biodegradable plastic checkout bags beginning in 2009. House Bill 2434 would apply to businesses with annual gross sales of more than $250,000.
San Francisco last year banned plastic bags, and other Mainland cities are looking at similar policies, as are the City and County of Honolulu and Maui County.
Senate Energy and Environment Committee Chairman Ron Menor, who introduced a bill to prohibit retail stores and supermarkets from distributing nonbiodegradable plastic bags, said he's gauging the level of House and Senate support for the measure. He said some lawmakers have questioned the need for the bill and expressed concerns, given the large public use of plastic bags.
Menor, D-17th (Mililani, Wai pi'o), also said the City Council is considering a similar proposal. A council committee is scheduled to hear a proposal banning plastic bags today.
House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee chairwoman Hermina Morita yesterday said lawmakers need a better understanding of the effectiveness of industry efforts such as plastic-bag recycling.
"If they are effective, then we don't need to legislate, but if it's proven that they are not effective, then I think we have a responsibility to step in," said Morita, D-14th (Hanalei, Anahola, Kapa'a).
MORE SUPPORT FOAM BAN
There appears to be stronger support for measures to ban polystyrene foam - commonly known as Styrofoam - food containers.
Morita's committee last week advanced a bill she introduced that would prohibit restaurants, food vendors and others from using plastic foam food containers beginning in 2010.
Menor's committee will hear a similar bill - which he introduced - on Thursday.
"I'm optimistic that the Styrofoam bill will get passed, and I think the passage of such a bill is necessary from the standpoint of protecting our environment and, more specifically, to address our significant landfill problems that are being exacerbated by the disposal of these nonbiodegradable products such as Styrofoam containers," Menor said.
The state Department of Health, in testimony on Morita's bill, said it supports the intent of reducing pollution but opposed the measure, saying in part that the practical impact of the measure on the food industry and consumers needs to be examined.
Reach Lynda Arakawa at email@example.com.
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