10-cent fee will increase plastic bag problem
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.