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Imagine a future where endless balls of plastic bags aren’t jammed underneath the kitchen sink, where the idea of a “plastic bag holder” is as quaint as a CD rack, and where that famous scene in “American Beauty” prompts children to ask their parents about the bygone days of plastic bag pollution.
For Hawaii, such a future is just around the corner. All four of the populated counties in Hawaii have passed legislation banning plastic bags at checkout counters, making it the first state in the country to pass such a ban. (There is a fifth county, Kalawao County, in Hawaii, but it is very remote and barely populated.) On the Big Island, where consumers have been paying for plastic bags at checkout lines for the past year, the ban officially begins on Jan. 17 at grocery stores, restaurants and retailers.
Consumers can opt for paper bags or bring their own, reusable bags. Plastic bags will still be available for bulk items such as nuts, fish, meat, grains, and fresh produce.
The islands of Kauai and Maui already enforce such a ban, with the most populated island, Oahu, set to join them in July of 2015.
“Being a marine state, perhaps, we are exposed more directly to the impacts of plastic pollution and the damage it does to our environment,” Robert Harris, director of the Sierra Club’s Hawaii chapter, said in 2012. “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.”
According to the Surfrider Foundation, Hawaii’s success came from its local, grassroots movements. The state-wide ban, they note, “was not done by the state legislature, but instead by all four County Councils.”
The Foundation also notes that the plastic bag ban is only the first step: if the state enacted a fee for paper bags, it would further reduce the use of disposable products.