HONOLULU — Environmentalists, retailers and Hawaii's first lady have called on state lawmakers to vote on a bill that would charge shoppers 10 cents for each paper or plastic bag they need to hold their purchases.
The fee is intended to encourage consumers to bring reusable bags to the stores. However, those who prefer the single-use bags will help pay for the protection of the state's watersheds.
"This legislation for us represents a perfect storm in terms of timing and impact. It allows us to turn a negative — which is the harmful use of plastic bags to our aina (land) — into a positive, which allows us to protect and enhance our watersheds, which is so essential to our everyday lives," said Gov. Neil Abercrombie's wife Nancie Carraway.
Carraway spoke at a press conference Thursday, along with representatives from the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, Times and Safeway supermarkets, the Surfrider Foundation and the Sierra Club Hawaii.
As it stands, the bill could either be worked on in conference committee or the House could choose to vote on the Senate's most recent draft of House Bill 2483. The House has not assigned any members to a conference committee on this measure, however, leaving its fate uncertain.
"(We're here) to call for a public vote to make sure those who are in favor and those who are opposed actually do so publicly," said Robert Harris, director of the Sierra Club Hawaii.
Stuart Coleman, regional coordinator of Surfrider Foundation Hawaii, offered a description of the organization's monthly beach clean-ups.
"One of the most 'popular' items that we always find are plastic bags — bags that are used for 15 minutes on average, but last in the environment for hundreds of years and kill all kinds of marine creatures each year," he said.
The statewide bag fee would be in addition to various plastic bag bans already in effect on the neighbor islands, and independent of a fee under consideration by the Honolulu City Council.
Melissa Pavlicek, representing Times and Safeway supermarkets, said retailers prefer the fee over the plastic bag bans. On neighbor islands, shoppers haven't started using reusable totes in significantly greater numbers. "Instead they're choosing to use paper bags, which is not good for the environment and does increase costs," she said.
Although the environmentalists hope a bag fee will eventually wean all shoppers off disposable shopping bags, Mark Fox, director of external affairs for The Nature Conservancy-Hawaii, explained that the revenue from the fee makes it a win-win even if shoppers don't make the switch. The bulk of the fee would be used to maintain the islands' clean water sources, which are under attack from invasive animal and plant life.
"The primary location where the bill proposes the revenue to go to is for our forests and watersheds up on the tops of our mountains," Fox said. "Those are the places that are truly the source of all our fresh water in the state."
In order for the bill get a floor vote, the House must either appoint members to a conference committee to resolve differences with the Senate or schedule a floor vote by April 27. The 2012 legislative session ends May 3.