Ban on plastic bags passes County Council first reading

‘This is a global movement,’ — Molina, the bill’s author

The Maui News, August 9, 2008

By MELISSA TANJI, Staff Writer

WAILUKU – The Maui County Council took its first formal step on Friday to pass a bill to bar retail businesses from giving out plastic bags at the point of sale.

“It’s been somewhat of a long battle, if you will,” said the bill’s author Council Member Mike Molina.

Since he introduced the bill a year ago, Molina said, changes have been occurring in the community to curb the use of plastic bags, including efforts by retailers and organizations to recycle and reduce use of plastic shopping bags.

But he said there still is opposition from retail industry “higher ups” who support recycling and protecting the environment but argue the customers should decide what they want, and a ban on plastic bags will increases costs for retailers. Molina said it’s time for retailers to “put down their swords” and work with the community and the government.

“This is a global movement. Worldwide people are thinking ‘save the planet.’ This is one small way in doing that,” he said.

The council approved the bill on first reading. After second and final reading by the council, the bill will go to Mayor Charmaine Tavares for her signature.

County Environmental Coordinator Kuhea Paracuelles supported the proposal in discussions by the Public Works and Facilities Committee. Environmental Management Director Cheryl Okuma has expressed concern over her department’s ability to enforce the law but also told the committee the two-year lag will allow her department time to gear up for implementation.

The ban on plastic bags would begin Jan. 1, 2011. When it goes into effect, the law will bar plastic bags now used at checkout counters and instead encourage paper bags, reusable cloth and other alternative packaging.

The ban does not apply to plastic bags used by grocery stores to hold fresh or wet products such as meats, poultry and produce.

Council Member Jo Anne Johnson said she’s heard from many senior citizens that they rely on plastic bags, and she too likes the convenience of disposable bags. But she said she knows what harm the bags can do as they affect marine life if they get into the ocean and she has seen trees littered with plastic bags.

“I think we are just going to have to change,” she said.

Hawaii Food Industry Association representative Lauren Zirbel was again on hand to testify about the cons of banning plastic bags and again stressed that the industry has done its share to promote recycling efforts.

She pointed out that manufacturing paper bags causes 70 percent more air pollution then plastic bags, that plastic bags are being recycled and that the bags can be used as an energy source.

In other matters before the council at Friday’s meeting:

* Members adopted a resolution to authorize up to $100,000 to hire the Bronster & Hoshibata law firm as special counsel to represent the county in a dispute involving Molokai Properties Ltd.

The county is resisting a state demand that the county take over water and wastewater systems being abandoned by three utilities operated by Molokai Properties. On Thursday, a hearings officer ordered the county to provide an assessment and an emergency plan for providing water and wastewater services if the Molokai utilities shut down. An order on what Molokai Properties must do is still pending.

Council Chairman Riki Hokama encouraged the council to still move forward with a contract to retain former state Attorney General Margery Bronster to provide an “additional legal option.”

* Members adopted two resolutions urging the federal government and the state government to seek solutions to soaring gas prices and to pursue initiatives to reduce the nation’s demand for oil.

* Members voted on first reading to amend the West Maui Community plan and rezone properties in Honokowai involved in a land exchange between Charles Nunes Jr. and the Maui Beach Resort Ltd. Partnership.

The exchange would allow a North Beach Park, which is currently bisected by Nunes’ property.

At Friday’s meeting, attorney Lance Collins, representing the West Maui Preservation Association, questioned the changes granted by the Land Use Committee allowing Nunes to construct a four-story development.

Johnson and Council Member Michelle Anderson voted against the changes.

* Members voted on first reading to extend a conditional permit for two years to Cherie Attix for continued operation of the Hale Hookipa Inn at 32 Pakani Place in Makawao.

Attix had asked for a four- year extension.

* Members adopted a resolution to accept a nearly $14,000 donation of a personal watercraft, trailer and other accessories from the Tri-Isle Resource Conservation & Development Council on behalf of the Will Smith Foundation.

Will Smith, 8, was killed in a car crash on June 3, 2007. His mother, Susan Moulton, offered to donate the personal watercraft and accessories in appreciation to county ocean safety officers who assisted at the scene. The equipment will be stationed in West Maui.

* A draft bill to allow alternative-energy projects on marginal agricultural land was referred to the Lanai, Molokai and Maui planning commissions. Council Member Mike Victorino introduced the measures, saying it would allow unproductive and unused agricultural lands to be used for worthwhile purposes.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@