The Honolulu City Council chose not to pass a bill Wednesday to close a loophole in the city’s plastic bag ban.

Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga opposed the full ban, saying the council should consider the opposition of restaurant, retail and plastic industries.

“Hawaii is a place of Aloha,” Fukunaga said. “In Hawaii, nobody gets left behind and in this instance we want to have everybody at the table crafting solutions.”

Jodi Malinoski leads marchers up Fort Street mall towards Pali Longs Drugs to encourage the City to close the loophole in the plastic bag ban and the State to pass a ban on syrofoam food containers. 10 feb 2017
Jodi Malinoski of the Sierra Club led a march last year calling for the city to close the loophole in the plastic bag ban and the state to pass a ban on styrofoam food containers. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The rejected proposal by Councilman Brandon Elefante would have added a 10-cent fee for both plastic and paper bags, and ultimately eliminated the use of all plastic bags at checkout counters by 2020. Business would have kept the money from the fee.

2012 bill had banned thin plastic bags, but some stores began distributing thicker bags.

Council members Ron Menor, Ann Kobayashi, Carol Fukunaga, Trevor Ozawa and Ernie Martin voted to reject Elefante’s proposal and chose to defer a separate version proposed by Fukunaga.

Elefante’s bill had the support of Mayor Kirk Caldwell and environmentalist groups.

Fukunaga’s amendments, which would also have added a 10-cent fee but allowed stores to continue distributing thick plastic bags, had the support of food and plastics industries. It called for an audit of the ban’s effectiveness by 2019.

Her amendments will need to return to the Committee on Sustainability and Public Works for further discussion. Fukunaga is the committee’s chair.

Individuals and members of environmental groups lined up to testify in favor of Elefante’s bill Wednesday.

“If you see what’s in the North Pacific Gyre, you get a sense of how urgent this issue is,” said Ted Bolan.

Industry representatives submitted written testimony but did not speak at the meeting.

Fukunaga read online testimony submitted by business owners, and blamed consumers for pollution caused by plastic bags.

Customers are really the bad actors in this whole equation,” she said. 

Council members Kymberly Pine, Joey Manahan and Ikaika Anderson joined Elefante in supporting his proposal for a full ban.

“I survive when I go to Target and they don’t give me a bag, I survive when I go to Costco and they don’t give me a bag,” Pine said.

At a a press conference Tuesday, publicized through the mayor’s Facebook and Instagram pages, Caldwell said he would veto Fukunaga’s version of the bill should it pass the council.

Leaders from Hawaii’s environmentalist organizations, including Stuart Coleman of the Surfrider Foundation, flanked the Honolulu mayor.

In an unusual point of consensus between the typically opposing groups, food industry representative Laurent Zirbel and Coleman agreed a bag fee is favorable to both businesses and the environment at a committee meeting in February.

Their harmony disintegrated three months later, when the Committee on Sustainability and Public Works approved Fukunaga’s version of the bill.

“It doesn’t have the eventual goal of banning plastic bags,” Coleman said of Fukunaga’s amendments in May. “That was the original intent of the bill going back to 2012.”

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