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Hawaii Takes Big Step By Becoming the First State to Ban Plastic Bags During Checkout

Woman carrying groceries bagged in plastic.
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

At the end of April, Honolulu County passed a ban that made Hawaii the first state in the nation to ban plastic bags at store checkouts statewide. Of the four counties in the state, three had previously passed bans and the Honolulu County decision officially made the ban statewide.

The Hawaii chapter of the Sierra Club has spent two years campaigning for a plastic bag ban. Robert Harris, director of the chapter said, “Passing the bans did take an effort — change always does — but people seemed to understand the need for such an effort.”

He believes that in the end it was easy to go statewide because Hawaii is a marine state. “Perhaps we are exposed more directly to the impacts of plastic pollution and the damage it does to our environment,” he said.

Harris also explained that the group had lobbied for state legislation, but that effort failed. The group used the exposure from it to petition the four counties to make their own bans which would then have an effect statewide.

The Honolulu County Council passed the final ban late last month, but mayor and county executive Peter Carlisle held back his support, feeling that he needed more input from the public because of enforcement and cost concerns. Last Thursday, Mayor Carlisle showed his full support by signing the ban and helping Hawaii earn its first-in-the-nation status.

Retailers have three years to comply with the county law that bans non-biodegradable plastic bags at checkout, as well as paper bags that are not at least 40 percent recycled. The ban will take full effect in July of 2015. You can find a list of other areas that have enacted bans on plastic bags at


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