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Scrapbook: Hawaii Waves Buh-Bye to the Bag

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May 22, 2012

Hawaii Waves Buh-Bye to the Bag

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Hawaii made history last week by becoming the first state in the country to ban plastic bags -- as well as paper bags that are not at least 40 percent recycled.

"Being the first state to pass this is tremendous. It will have a huge impact. We estimate 450 million bags each year will be kept out of the waste stream in the state," says Sierra Club Hawai'i Chapter Director Robert Harris.

This major victory couldn't have happened without a coalition of groups -- led by the Sierra Club and the Surfrider Foundation -- leaning on local governments to tackle the bag problem. Last week, Honolulu County in effect banned plastic bags in the state by joining the three other counties that make up the state of Hawaii in adopting a ban. This came after the state legislature failed to pass a paper and plastic bag tax earlier this year.

"We had this state bill that would have put in place a fee and the concept of the ban floated around with it. The publicity we were able to receive for taking action helped pressure our elected officials to do something," Harris says. "Ultimately the counties acted first."

At the last Honolulu City Council meeting, the Sierra Club Chapter helped turn out 25 people to speak out. But a number of the people from the audience who were already there joined them. "And that's what really helped the City Council enact it. It really encouraged the mayor and the chair of the City Council to support it," Harris says.

Hawaii plastic bag ban

But this issue isn't over. Harris anticipates supporters will turn attention to paper bags during the next legislative session. Earlier this year, the state government failed to pass a bill that would've tacked on a ten-cent fee, which would've raised an estimated $20 million a year toward restoring and protecting watersheds and rainforest areas that get trampled by non-native animals such as goats and pigs.

Harris adds that he hopes Hawaii will become a leader for other states.

Bag monster

"This is a terrific example of how building public pressure can enact progressive legislation. It's important to recognize these efforts at the state and county levels," he says. "We hope we can be leaders on a national level to get toward a more sustainable future and other states will follow suit."

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