By ERIN MILLER
Mayor Billy Kenoi this week signed off on rules phasing out plastic checkout bags on Hawaii Island.
The County Council authorized the bill a year ago, and the Department of Environmental Management spent most of this year finalizing the rules.
“There will be a continuing education effort,” Kenoi said Friday. “Ultimately, the community came together and seems to accept the changes. I think everybody will be able to see (the benefit of the ban) and hopefully experience a relatively seamless transition.”
The rules follow closely the presentation Department of Environmental Management officials made at a public hearing earlier this month. Retailers have one year, beginning Jan. 17, to phase out their supply of single-use plastic bags. During the first year, retailers may offer plastic bags at a cost to customers.
Reusable bags, including plastic ones that are at least 3 mils (thousandth of an inch) thick, and paper bags are allowed. Also allowed will be bags without handles offered to prevent contamination of food, such as raw meat, frozen foods, deli foods and unpackaged bakery items, bags without handles for produce, nuts, grains, cereal, flour, rice and candy, bags for protecting garments at a laundry or formal wear retailer, bags without handles for small retail items, including jewelry, buttons, beads, ribbon and hardware items, and bags for prescription drugs.
Kenoi said nonprofit organizations are exempt from the rules.
Fines ranges from $250 for an initial violation notice to up to $1,000 per day. The Department of Environmental Management director has the authority to waive the fines. The county will issue one written warning of violation before fining businesses for noncompliance.
In Maui County, where a bag ban is already in effect, officials have never needed to fine anyone, a county official told Stephens Media earlier this month. Maui residents also adapted to the change fairly easily, Environmental Coordinator Rob Parsons said.
“It was a little bit of a behavioral shift,” he added. “By and large, people got with the program fairly quickly.”
Like in Maui County, some Hawaii County businesses already offer a discount to shoppers who bring their own reusable bags.
Kauai also has enacted a plastic bag ban.
Former Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann introduced the measure. He spent most of his first seven years on the council trying to get a bag ban measure enacted. The council heard plenty of testimony on the issue, and Kenoi told Stephens Media earlier this year he heard passionate appeals from opponents and proponents while he debated whether to sign or veto the measure.
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