The Honolulu City Council will consider a bill Wednesday to close a loophole in the plastic bag ban that currently allows the use of thicker plastic checkout bags.

Under the amended Bill 59, all thin, flexible plastic bags 10 mils — roughly one-hundredth of an inch — or less would be banned by 2020.

The draft contains amendments proposed by Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga, chair of the Public Works, Infrastructure and Sustainability Committee. A spokesman for Mayor Kirk Caldwell said he supports the latest version, meaning the bill would be on track to become law if passed by the council.

Aaron Char leads supporters march along Bishop Street 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
Aaron Char led supporters on a march along Bishop Street to encourage the city to ban more plastic bags. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

At a meeting before the full council last month, Fukunaga said the council should consider the concerns of restaurant, retail and plastic industries.

Fukunaga could not be reached for comment Monday.

The ban would not be applicable to certain kinds of plastic bags used by consumers, including garment bags, bags that pharmacists use for prescription medications and bags packaging loose items like produce or candies.

The bill would also amend current Honolulu law, which allows the distribution of so-called “reusable” plastic checkout bags that meet certain standards of compostability and are at least 2.25 mils thick. Both compostable and non-compostable plastic bags would be banned by 2020 under the current draft of the bill.

It would take effect in July 2018. From then until 2020, businesses could provide “reusable bags, compostable plastic bags, or recyclable paper bags,” but would be required to charge at least 15 cents per bag.

After 2020, nonrecyclable paper bags could be provided at no cost to customers transporting “prepared foods, beverages, or bakery goods,” according to the bill.

Both environmental groups and the restaurant industry support the plastic bag fee.

Honolulu City Council Member Brandon Elefante. 8 feb 2017
Honolulu City Councilman Brandon Elefante believes Bill 59 will pass Wednesday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

Elefante, who authored the bill, said Monday he believes the amended version will be approved Wednesday.

“It’s gone through a long process,” he said.

However, the Corporation Counsel — which advises the City Council on legal matters — has concerns about the latest draft that Elefante said he hopes can be fixed. He declined to elaborate on the concerns.

Elefante said he’s comfortable with Fukunaga’s current amendments and doesn’t plan to offer additional amendments of his own.

Fukunaga’s amendments increase the per-bag fee to 15 cents from the prior proposal of 10 cents. Some stores already collect plastic bag fees, Elefante said, and the proceeds would still go to the merchant.

A previous version of the story inaccurately said some of the proceeds would go to the city.

“That was my whole goal from day one, was to ban plastic checkout bags … and to encourage people to use resuable (tote) bags,” Elefante said, noting that neighbor islands already have similar laws.

Since Hawaii’s plastic bag ban became law five years ago, Stuart Coleman, Hawaii coordinator of the Surfrider Foundation, has been working to close the loophole that allows thicker bags. Though he supported Elefante’s version that was rejected at the full council, Coleman said Fukunaga’s amendments strike a good compromise.

Hawaii has the opportunity to become a leader — it was the first state to ban plastic bags and should take the next step to ban styrofoam, Coleman said.

“It is one of these rare times where it is kind of a win-win in that it’s definitely good for the environment and economically, we can’t afford to have plastic bags all over the place, when tourism” is a major driver for the state, he said.

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