Fantastic without plastic: Hawaii’s plastic bag ban leads US in eco-consciousness

Reuters/Mike Blake
While Hawaii was the last state to join the union, it recently became the first state to ban plastic bags at supermarkets. All county-level laws prohibit stores from handing out non-biodegradable bags.

The law went into effect on July 1 and covers Oahu, the state’s most populated island. Oahu is the last island in the state to bring the hammer of the law down on the bag, neatly locking it into place with every other local government in Hawaii, according to Mashable.

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The ban contains several important exemptions, such as bags used for the medical and sanitary purposes or the wrapping of meat, fish and bulk items. Retailers caught using bags for non-exempt purposes face heavy penalties ranging from $100 to $1000 per day in the case of violation.

Retailers are encouraged to comply with the ban by using recyclable paper bags, reusable bags or special biodegradable plastic bags.

The measure occurred just in time, beating California, which itself was just about to acquire the distinction of being the first to ban plastic bags statewide after passing a law. However, a November 2016 referendum will have the final say on whether or not the legislation actually takes effect.

Hawaii’s method is proof that banning the bag isn’t something that needs to be passed down from a state legislature. The environmental measure has also previously been implemented on the municipal level like in cities like Chicago, Illinois and Portland, Oregon. Washington, DC and other localities charge a tax for each paper or plastic bag used at food stores.

Plastic bags aren’t biodegradable, and less than one percent of plastic bags are recycled. Even when they are, it costs more than producing a new one.

“There's harsh economics behind bag recycling: It costs $4,000 to process and recycle one ton of plastic bags, which can then be sold on the commodities market for $32,” said Jared Blumenfeld, the director of San Francisco's Department of the Environment, according to Temple University’s Office of Sustainability.

South Africa, Rwanda, Zanzibar, and the French island of Corsica have all banned throwaway plastic bags.