As reported last month in this blog, on May 10 Hawai'i became the first state in the union to ban plastic bags at point of sale. The ban is already in effect in two of Hawai'i's four counties, and will be phased in over the next couple years in the remaining two.
"Being the first state to pass this is tremendous," says Hawai'i Chapter Director Robert Harris, the Club's staff leader in the effort. "It will have a huge impact. We estimate that 450 million bags each year will be kept out of the waste stream in the state."
Most of the activists pushing the bag ban, however, were volunteers (in the time-honored Sierra Club tradition). A great many of them deserve a shout-out, but none more than Leilei Shih, a third-year PhD student in the Department of Oceanocraphy at the University of Hawai'i.
Shih, co-captain and blogger for the Hawai'i Chapter's Capitol Watch program and captain of its "Opala" section, which monitors and advocates for bills that will reduce Hawai'i's growing waste problem, began working more than two years ago to get Honolulu County and the state legislature to pass a plastic bag ban.
"Given our geographic location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and the fact that each of our roughly 1.4 million residents generates more than six pounds of trash every day, the bag ban seemed essential and inevitable," Shih says. "Still, at times it seemed as though the local governments were adamantly opposed to the concept."
In 2011, a statewide ban passed multiple committees in the Hawai'i Legislature and began garnering attention in the local press, opening the door for Shih, Robert Harris, and Surfrider Foundation Oahu coordinator Stuart Coleman to meet with legislators and explain to them why the bill was so important. (Shih also serves on the executive committee of Surfrider Foundation Oahu.)
Sadly, the bill never made it to a vote. "Having identified no obvious opponents to our bill, and having found strong support in the legislature, the death of the bag bill last year was shocking and deflating," Shih says.
But it is not in this determined activist's DNA to give up the fight. "Knowing that good environmental bills can take years to pass, I felt resolute in preparing for a victory in 2012," Shih says.