A long awaited and highly anticipated law was finally passed in Hawaii. Hawaii bans plastic bags and in the process becomes the first state to do so. The all to familiar phrase of “paper or plastic” will be no more in the grocery stores of Hawaii.
The city and County of Honolulu, which covers the entirety of Oahu, Hawaii’s most populated island, is now cracking down and enforcing a ban that prohibits stores from handing plastic bags to customers at checkout. This makes Oahu the last populated island in the state to do away with plastic bags. All the other Hawaiian islands had already put the ban in place.
Hawaii is actually the first state to put the plastic bag ban in place, even though other states have passed similar laws. California recently passed a law that requires stores to charge for reusable bags. However, even that has been put on hold until a referendum is held in November. The main difference in Hawaii’s ban of plastic bags compared to how other states may be trying to do it is the fact that the Hawaii plastic bag ban was instituted at the county level. Conversely, the California ban was passed by state legislature.
“This was not done by the state legislature, but instead by all four County Councils,”the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental advocacy group, said in 2012 when the ban was first passed. The group called the effort “a great example of local activists and decision-makers addressing the serious issue of plastic pollution.”
Exceptions to the Hawaii Plastic Bag Ban
The Hawaii plastic bag ban does make some exceptions to the rule. The ban does make those exceptions for some plastic bags, including compostable bags and those used within a store for bulk items or those used for medical or sanitary purposes.
Environmental Impact of Plastic Bags
Still though, this is a huge step forward in the right direction, as plastic bags have arguably one of the worst impacts on the environment around us. For Hawaii it destroys the ocean and has gotten out of hand over the last few years. It isn’t uncommon to see a plastic bag floating in the water at even the nicest, most secluded beaches in Hawaii.
Plastic isn’t biodegradable, and whether we know or accept it, the United States is one of the biggest contributors to ocean garbage patches, often described as floating islands of trash. Sure, there are other outside factors that contribute to these floating islands of trash… the devastating earthquake in Japan left a massive island of floating trash that is still on course to hit the West Coast and Hawaii sometime in 2015 – 2016. Even if you conscientiously reuse your plastic bags, they likely still end up sitting in a landfill or adding to the 28 billion pounds of plastic already in our ocean, where they may be ingested by or otherwise harm marine animals.
The overall impact of the plastic bag ban in Hawaii may not be seen for a while, but you can bet that over the next few years the impact will be very noticeable. Something as simple as Hawaii banning plastic bags at checkout will have a much bigger impact on the environment than we think.
Congratulations Hawaii, you have set a great standard for the rest of the nation to look at.