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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bag the idea of a ban or nickel fee

Sometimes it's not a question of whether but when.

And now seems an awkward time for Hawai'i to enact either a ban on single-use plastic bags the kind commonly used by most stores or assess a 5-cent fee in the hope that this would discourage their use.

Senate Bill 2559, to be aired at a House hearing at 11:30 a.m. today in Room 325, mandates an outright ban; the House is considering the 5-cent-per-bag fee.

What the state should do instead is to seek an expansion of the plastic bag recycling that goes on at some stores. And it could take the time to watch programs elsewhere. Washington, D.C., already has a 5-cent plan in place. It's too soon to say whether that's working.

Nobody can dispute that plastic-bag litter clogs landfills and causes a menace when it escapes into the ocean. But there are two reasons why this session seems the wrong time to enact such a measure.

The first is obvious: Just as businesses are climbing out of a deep recession is not the moment to slap them with additional costs. Retailers report that bans in other areas have led more shoppers simply to substitute a paper bag, so this bill could pile those costs on businesses.

And processing the collected nickels, nearly half of which the state would get, could be an unwelcome expense.

The other reason is that there is a pilot project of sorts that bears watching before any statewide action is taken. Maui County enacted a plastic-bag ban that takes effect in January 2011.

There's bound to be room for improvement in any project like this.

Learning from Maui's experience could keep mistakes made on a single island from being recycled statewide.