Five years ago, the council passed a law banning plastic bags under 2.25 millimeters from certain uses at stores. The law went into effect last year, but many stores started giving out thicker plastic bags rather than getting rid of the bags altogether as the bill had intended.
Dueling amendments to the bill were proposed. Elefante’s amendments would have added language requiring stores to phase out the thicker bags — ultimately eliminating the use of all plastic bags at checkout counters by 2020.
But the committee instead approved an amendment by Carol Fukunaga, chairwoman of the panel, that allowed the continued use of the thicker bags.
The bill goes to the full council meeting for consideration.
Fukunaga did not specify whether or not the bill will be on the agenda for the full council meeting next week.
In support of a total ban, Elefante cited environmental concerns such as the growing mass of trash in the ocean referred to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
“Our neighbor island counties have passed bills and ordinances that actually go a little further than Honolulu,” Elefante said. “It’s actually a bit embarrassing from our standpoint that we’re not up to speed with our neighbor island counties.”
Fukunaga said both industry representatives and environmentalists agree on charging a fee, and that the two groups must come to an consensus before any further language can be added to the bill.
Her version was supported by grocery industry representatives including Lauren Zirbel, executive director of the Hawaii Food Industry Association.
Council members Ann Kobayashi and Trevor Ozawa supported Fukunaga’s proposal, while Councilman Joey Manahan supported Elefante’s.
Ozawa, who represents districts from Hawaii Kai to Ala Moana, said there isn’t enough evidence supporting the argument that a plastic bag ban will benefit the environment.
“I’ve heard emotional testimony,” he said. “But as an attorney I’m looking for factual evidence.”
He also cited concerns about reusable bags being worse for the environment than plastic bags and said many of his constituents did not support the ban.
“There’s been a preponderance of evidence about plastic pollution in the ocean and it’s been presented before the city council numerous times,” said Stuart Coleman, who is the Hawaii coordinator of the Surfrider Foundation.