Perhaps because of their proximity to what has been dubbed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Hawaiians have voted to ban the use of plastic shopping bags throughout the state by 2015.
This month, Honolulu County became the final county in the island state to ban the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags at shopping centers. Voters also approved the ban of paper bags that did not contain at least 40 percent recycled material.
Officials said the 2015 deadline will allow local retailers and shoppers the time to make the appropriate changes.
“(The deadline) gives us plenty of time to get ready,” Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle told MSNBC. “Retailers will be able to use up their inventory of bags and make arrangements to educate the public on the importance of bringing their own bag.”
The movement to ban the bags was driven in part by the Sierra Club, a national conservation group, and the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental group focused on protecting the oceans. The local chapters of both groups organized rallies and raised awareness for the cause on both a state and county level.
“We also lobbied extensively for statewide legislation, which failed, but it helped direct attention to the issue and eventually got the last county to take action,” Robert Harris, director of the Sierra Club’s Hawaii chapter, told MSNBC’s Miguel Llanos.
“Being a marine state, perhaps, we are exposed more directly to the impacts of plastic pollution and the damage it does to our environment,” Harris said in explaining the support in all four counties. “People in Hawaii are more likely to be in the water or in the outdoors and see the modern day tumbleweed — plastic bags — in the environment.”
A bill that was passing through the state legislature would have charged shoppers 10 cents per plastic bag used, but the bill lost momentum earlier this month, just two weeks after being introduced. A statewide ban of the plastic bags also recently failed in California, according to Harris.
Hawaii’s ban comes just after a report earlier this month from the Scripps Institute that showed plastic trash has been accumulating in the Pacific Ocean at an alarming rate. A region in the northern Pacific has been dubbed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch because of the millions a bits of trash swirling about in the ocean currents there. The area this trash covers has increased by 100 times in size over the past 40 years, the report said. Researchers found the flotilla of trash is having a significant and measurable impact on the creatures living in that area.
While the Garbage Patch could explain Hawaii’s motivation in enacting the ban, experts aren’t predicting the floating trash heap will motivate the rest of the country to take similar actions. Many feel the plastics industry is too entrenched with their many lobbyists for state or national politicians to take up the cause.
The most likely lesson to learn from the Honolulu County ban is that it’s easier for activists to ban the use of plastic bags incrementally at the local level.