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The Nation’s First Statewide Bag Bill? An Idea Whose Time Has Come

// By Stuart Holmes Coleman // April 13, 2011 //

Nothing symbolizes our disposable, throw-away culture more than the single-use plastic bag. How many of us have drawers or closets full of these colorful bags that we don’t know what to do with? And how often do we see these toxic tumbleweeds blowing in the wind, blooming in bushes or floating like a jellyfish at sea?

The fact is Americans consume more than 100 billion plastic bags each year, yet less than 5 percent are ever recycled. Grocery stores only started handing them out 30 years, but they have since become one of the most littered items on earth. Used for an average of 15 to 20 minutes, they last for hundreds of years in the environment. Requiring more than 12 million barrels of oil to produce, these petroleum-based bags never biodegrade, only photodegrade into smaller pieces called micro-plastics.

At the recent Fifth International Marine Debris Conference in Honolulu, scientists and researchers from across the world presented evidence that micro-plastics in the ocean attract all kinds of toxic chemicals like PCBs and pesticides that make their way up the food chain and into our seafood. Plastics also lead to the deaths of countless marine creatures each year due to entanglement and ingestion.

According to one report, more than half of all sea turtles surveyed were found to have plastic in their system.

The new award-winning film Bag It also shows how chemical hormone disrupters like BPA and phthalates leach out of many plastics and cause a laundry list of human health problems like obesity, diabetes, autism and abnormal sexual development. So how do we stop this plague of plastic waste that’s hurting our environment, health and economy?

The good news is that Hawaii’s legislators have moved forward a bill to reduce the amount of plastic pollution across the state. The bill is supported by a broad coalition of environmental organizations like the Surfrider Foundation and Sierra Club, large business groups like the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, the Hawaii Food Industry Association, and grocery stores like Safeway and Times.

Senate Bill 1363 would impose a small fee on all single-use plastic and paper bags and keep in place the plastic bag bans that recently went into effect on Maui and Kauai. The bill just passed out of the Finance Committee last week and will now go into Conference Committee before a general floor vote in a few weeks.

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