“Paper or Plastic?” is No Longer The Question in Hawaii Grocery Stores

The Aloha State is first in the nation to ban plastic bags

October 7, 2015
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In a historic move, Hawaii became the first state in the nation to ban plastic bags at grocery stores. 

The green initiative was passed in 2012, and the measure went into effect on July 1. The goal of the law is to reduce marine litter around the islands. 

Interestingly, the ban was instituted by Hawaii’s four counties, rather than at the state level. Honolulu County, located on the island of Oahu, became the final region in the state to take action. Now, stores on the islands are prohibited from handing out plastic bags at checkout. 

Well, almost. 

Unfortunately, there’s a glaring loophole in the ban that allows stores to hand out “reusable” plastic bags. Some retailers, including Wal-Mart, are distributing thicker plastic bags marked as “reusable.” Many environmental advocates are dismayed by what they perceive as an oversight in crafting the law.  

“That’s more plastic that they have to use to make the bag which is more of a finite resource. It’s oil. Plastic is made out of oil. They also pose just as much of a risk to our marine creatures,” Kahi Pacarro, executive director of Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, told Hawaii News Now. 

There are other exceptions, as well. Restaurants will still be allowed to use plastic bags to transport delivery and carryout orders. Pharmacies and dry cleaners can continue to use plastic bags, too. 

The ban is still an incredible step in the right direction. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans threw away 3.4 million tons worth of plastic bags and wrapping in 2012. It’s that sort of waste that has resulted in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a concentration of debris twice the size of the continental United States located between California and Hawaii.  

“At this point, now we got something in. So now we’ve worked together, proven that we can do it together. Now let’s take the next step and close these loopholes,” Pacarro told Hawaii News Now. 

Small changes can lead to something bigger, though. If more states start to follow Hawaii’s example, real reductions in plastic waste could be possible. 

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