10-cent fee will in­crease plas­tic bag prob­lem

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - VIEWS & VOICES - Suzanne Frazer and Dean Ot­suki are the co-founders of the non­profit Beach En­vi­ron­men­tal Aware­ness Cam­paign Hawaii (B.E.A.C.H.). By Suzanne Frazer and Dean Ot­suki

The Honolulu City Coun­cil will be vot­ing on Bill 59, CD2, on Wed­nes­day in the fi­nal hear­ing of this mea­sure.

This bill would re­quire busi­nesses to charge a fee of 10 cents or more on all plas­tic and pa­per bags with the ex­cep­tion of bags for pre­pared food and drinks. But it does noth­ing at all to move Honolulu County to­ward a real ban on plas­tic check­out bags. It doesn’t even take an in­cre­men­tal step, such as ban­ning com­postable plas­tic bags.

In­stead it al­lows all the loop­holes in the law to re­main in­clud­ing thick plas­tic bags, plas­tic bags for take­out and com­postable plas­tic bags.

The Coun­cil is side-step­ping fix­ing up the failed plas­tic bag ban by sub­sti­tut­ing a fee in­stead. A fee is only go­ing to make things worse be­cause stores will start of­fer­ing thick plas­tic bags, as a fee will off­set the dif­fer­ence be­tween a pa­per bag that costs less and the plas­tic bag that costs more. There­fore there will be more plas­tic bags in the en­vi­ron­ment be­cause of this bill, not less. Also, once the re­tail­ers start mak­ing ex­tra money from the fees, they won’t want to give that up — and a full ban on plas­tic check­out bags will be im­pos­si­ble to achieve.

This idea of putting a 10cent fee on bags to de­ter cus­tomers from buy­ing them is al­ready a proven fail­ure. That’s be­cause there are stores here that have al­ready been charg­ing fees, and shop­pers are just pay­ing the 10 cents for the bags. Don Qui­jote has been charg­ing 10 cents for thick plas­tic bags for the past two years and Wal­mart has been charg­ing for more than eight months.

When we vis­ited th­ese stores re­cently, we found that most cus­tomers paid for thick plas­tic bags, es­pe­cially in Wal­mart, where noone had a re­us­able bag (one with stitch­ing, not a thick plas­tic bag) and many cus­tomers left with up to six bags each. At an ABC shop in Waikiki where bags are 16 cents and 25 cents, we watched ev­ery cus­tomer leave with a thick plas­tic bag in their hand.

A bag fee will have no ef­fect on chang­ing the habits of the more than 5 mil­lion peo­ple who visit Oahu ev­ery year. It is un­re­al­is­tic to ex­pect that all th­ese mil­lions of peo­ple from all over the world will pack re­us­able bags in their lug­gage in or­der to avoid 10-cent bag fees. What is an­other dime per bag when tourists are al­ready pay­ing $5 for a cart at the air­port, air­line bag­gage fees, tips and other travel costs?

Bill 59, CD2 is go­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion. The Coun­cil should be mak­ing the cur­rent law stronger so that all plas­tic bags are banned, not sub­sti­tut­ing a fee for a real ban. The law we now have re­sulted in a switch from thin plas­tic check­out bags to thick plas­tic check­out bags (dis­guised as “re­us­able” bags), and that is not a ban. The orig­i­nal pur­pose of the or­di­nance was to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment and ma­rine life through elim­i­nat­ing plas­tic bags. Un­for­tu­nately the many loop­holes in the law pre­vented this in­tent from be­ing re­al­ized.

The only way to stop bags from get­ting into the en­vi­ron­ment is to ban them. As this is an is­land sur­rounded by the ocean with en­dan­gered and threat­ened ma­rine species, it is im­per­a­tive that steps are taken to pro­tect those an­i­mals. Busi­nesses will do just fine with pa­per bags (e.g., Whole Foods), or no bags (e.g., Tar­get) or card­board boxes (e.g., Costco).

Busi­nesses on Kauai aren’t hand­ing out any plas­tic bags, and in the six years since it law started, there’s been no neg­a­tive ef­fects. In fact vis­i­tors ap­plaud the law there and lo­cals are proud of it. If Kauai can ban all plas­tic bags, so can Oahu.

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