OPINION: A Bag Ban With No Bite

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Editor’s note: Maui and Kauai have had a plastic bag ban in place since January 11, 2011. The EPA applauded these counties for this action. Comments can be left below this article.

Hawaii County Council at times functions like a logic-crushing black hole, where the normal rules of common sense do not apply.

I was reminded of this fact while sitting on the beach after sunset, caressing a beautifully hand-crafted cigar I’d never be able to light. Instead of enjoying the luxurious cocoa essence of my Padrón 1964 Maduro, it lay in my hand, pouting. Meanwhile, at a nearby grill, burnt grease sent billowing clouds of black smoke in my direction. Despite my cigar having only one hundredth the firepower of the neighboring inferno, the county council long ago deemed it a danger to society, even in the wide-open space of public parks.

While the excessive anti-smoking law is a nuisance, it pales in comparison to the council’s latest journey into the legislative twilight zone: Bill 17, Draft 2, a.k.a. “the plastic bag ban.”


Set to take effect in 2013, the measure bars the use of all such bags by retailers, including those operating at farmer’s markets and craft fairs. Businesses are instead expected to provide either paper or cloth packaging for their customers. While effective for small indoor grocery purchases, paper bags are useless for bulky items or heavy merchandise. For open markets in places like Hilo, where rainfall sometimes surpasses 200 inches per year (Ed’s Note: average rainfall at Hilo airport is around 130 inches per year) , forcing vendors to issue paper packaging is insulting. While locals may use cloth bags, unprepared tourists passing through on foot will be in no mood to lug fragile brown sacks through a downpour.

Will this headache for businesses and shoppers actually be enforced?  It’s unclear. The details are left up to the Department of Environmental Management, who according to the bill will form a working group to prepare “administrative rules for implementation” in the first six months of 2013, spending an unknown amount of tax dollars and man hours to do so.

Complicating things further is a proposal moving through the state House of Representatives. House bill 2260 would impose a mandatory fee for every plastic bag issued, using the revenue for recycling efforts and waste-reduction education. Though preferable to the county’s overreach, it’s unclear what impact it would have on local regulations. In a depressed island economy with 9.2% unemployment, businesses and consumers can ill afford the uncertainty.


Most vexing of all is the statement issued by mayor Billy Kenoi upon approving the county measure. Kenoi noted that public testimony was in favor of a veto, stating his preference for a per bag fee due in part to the lighter burden on businesses. Despite acknowledging the superiority of public/private partnerships over government mandates, Kenoi still signed the legislation, writing “This bill is not about plastic bags, politics, or the Hawaii County Council. It’s about protecting our beautiful island.”

Now that’s what you call blowing smoke.

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