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Scrapbook: Hawai'i Chapter: Don't Forget Your Bag

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February 13, 2012

Hawai'i Chapter: Don't Forget Your Bag

Plastic bag 6 Amy Brinker

The 50th state might become the very first state in the country to bag the bag if an idea the legislature is currently weighing becomes law. Last week, the Sierra Club's Hawai'i Chapter joined a coalition outside Honolulu's capitol building and covered the lawn with plastic bags, giving state legislators a visual sense of our country's massive bag problem.

"A plastic bag is almost like the modern day tumble weed," says Robert Harris, Chapter Director. "Being a marine state, we have to be more vigilant about eliminating them before they get into the ecosystem."

The bill being considered would target all bags -- paper and plastic -- and tack on a fee of ten cents that would go toward restoring and protecting watersheds and rainforest areas that get trampled by invasive animals -- goats, sheep, deer, pigs. Supporters believe a state-wide bag fee could raise about $20 million a year.

Don't like the idea of a fee? No problem. Bring your own bag.

"Bags are the low hanging fruit in terms of our waste stream," Harris said.

Last week's rally received a big boost from Diana Sellner, a local Girl Scout who mobilized help as part of her bid to earn the Gold Award, the scouting program's top award. Soon after she began, environmental groups, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, and retailers hopped on board. 

Plastic bag 2 courtesy Diana Sellner

One would assume the business community would oppose any sort of added fees. But retailers signed on because this law targets plastic and paper. For retailers, plastic costs 1 cent per bag while paper costs 10 cents, Harris explained. Because of this, plastic-only fees and bans cost businesses a big chunk of change. By targeting both types of bag material, bag expenses drop immensely for businesses.

"And paper is not necessarily better for the environment when you consider all the resources put into making them," Harris says. "It makes sense environmentally to go after both."

Last week, supporters sprawled 400 plastic bags across the capital lawn, representing the average number of bags used per person per year.

"But obviously our hope is that people stop using bags. This would be a gentle nudge to remind people to bring their own bags. If people get it and bring their bags, less money would be raised for these environmental projects, which would mean this idea is working," Harris said.

Plastic bag 3 courtesy Diana Sellner

The bill does not have any major opposition. It's currently sitting in committee. Harris hopes that if it becomes law, it will become a national model. It could come to a vote within the next few weeks.

The Hawai'i Chapter has stepped up its work with the state government. Learn more about that by visiting Capitolwatchhawaii.org

(Top image photo credit: Amy Brinkley; second and third images courtesy Diana Sellner.)

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