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Oahu to enforce plastic bag ban as it has brought environmental benefits to other isles

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HONOLULU — Honolulu is set to become the last county in Hawaii to ban plastic checkout bags.

Starting July 1, businesses won't be allowed to provide plastic bags and non-recyclable paper bags at the time of customer checkout. The law was first approved by the Honolulu City Council three years ago, amended last year and then signed by Mayor Kirk Caldwell, reported The Honolulu Star-Advertiser (http://bit.ly/1K6eohx).

The law is welcomed by those who see it as better for the environment. However, many merchants view the additional costs that are in store as burdensome.

"When there's a new fee here and a new fee there, plus a new regulation here and a new regulation there, it can add up to a lot of money, especially for a small business trying to make rent at the end of the month," Sheri Sakamoto, president of the Honolulu-based Retail Merchants of Hawaii.

Sakamoto is also worried about the potential increase in shoplifting that the new law could create, as customers are armed with their own bags, she said.

Acceptable bags under the new law include compostable plastic bags, recyclable paper bags that contain a minimum of 40 percent post-consumer recycled content, and reusable bags, which may be made of fabric or other durable material suitable for reuse.

The city Department of Environmental Services recently distributed 9,000 bag ban information sheets and forms to Oahu businesses. The businesses must decide by the start date how they plan to comply with the ordinance.

"It's crazy," said Adrian Hong, president of Island Plastic Bags in Aiea, one of Oahu's few plastic bag manufacturers and distributers. "I'm getting five to 10 calls a day. A lot of people still haven't figured out what they're going to do."

But some businesses have already indicated that they will continue to provide other bags to customers. Of those businesses, 25 percent said they would use compostable bags, 44 percent recyclable paper bags and 31 percent reusable bags, the city said.

Maui and Kauai outlawed plastic bans about five years ago and Hawaii Island banned them in 2013.

Maui's ordinance has resulted in a "massive decrease" in plastic litter, said Michael Ratte, Maui County's Solid Waste Division chief, due to nearly 100 percent of merchants adhering to the law.

On Hawaii Island, the percentage of shoppers with reusable bags has increased by about 60 percent since the law went into effect, according to surveys at local grocery and big-box stores in East Hawaii and West Hawaii.

On Kauai, Maureen Murphy, president of the Kauai Outdoor Circle, said she has seen a significant decline in plastic litter over the past few years.

"It's made a huge difference," Murphy said. "We used to see a lot of plastic bags blowing around, attached to chain-link fences. We don't see that anymore."


Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, http://www.staradvertiser.com

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