By HUNTER BISHOP
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Hilo shoppers and retailers had little bad to say on the first day the county’s new plastic bag ban took effect Thursday.
“It’s just another law,” lamented Hawaiian Paradise Park resident Jan Smith, who’d forgotten her reusable bag while shopping at Sack N Save at the Puainako Shopping Center.
“I have about six or seven in the car,” she said laughing. “A lot of times I forget.”
While customers who want plastic bags with handles for their groceries may still get them at most stores, retailers must charge a fee for them until next Jan. 14, 2014, when the bags will be banned at checkout counters altogether.
Although it’s up to the merchants to decide how much to charge for plastic bags, most have settled on a 5-cent fee. Paper bags will continue to be available to customers if the store chooses to provide them.
“It’s something we do for our customers,” said Sack N Save assistant manager Ashley Remmers, even though paper bags cost more for the store to provide than single-use plastic bags.
“We’ve had no complaints,” she said, “and generally, customers have been pretty good about bringing in their reusable bags.”
Remmers estimated that on Thursday 90 percent of the store’s customers were bringing in their own reusable bags. “Our customers are really good about bringing their bags in,” she said.
Smith, who forgot hers, however, said, “I guess I would go out to the car to get (a reusable bag) before I pay 5 cents for a plastic bag.”
At Target in Makaala Center, it was a little different.
Mike Kemper, the stores’s “leader on duty,” said very few customers were bringing in their own reusable bags, even though the store has been proactive with publicity for months in advance of the new law.
“It’s not that many right now, but the percentage has gone up. Reusable bags are flying off the shelves, however” he said. “The people of Hilo are taking it very well.”
But as Kepano Kailiawa of Pahala was loading groceries into his car at Puainako Town Center, he jumped at the opportunity to express his frustration with the bill, designed to protect the environment from visual blight and marine mammals from physical harm.
With one reusable bag and several free paper bags from Sack N Save in his cart, Kailiawa said, “They’re going to have to cut more trees. And plastic bags are recyclable, you know. But now they’re wasting trees.
“Look at how much plastic bags you see around here,” he said, gesturing toward the surrounding parking lot, seemingly devoid of bags on the loose. “I surf, I go out into the ocean, I don’t see plastic bags. All the rubbish is coming from Japan,” he said. “(The bag reduction bill) is a lot of bull.”
Kailiawa also predicted that “people are going to get sicker” if they don’t take care to keep their reusable bags clean, and urged government to “worry about bigger things than bags.”
Lei Ichinotsubo of Pepeekeo walked out of the Puainako KTA with her purchase in a plastic bag that apparently she’d just paid a nickel for. “I think so, I guess I did,” she said. “I just read about it this morning,” she added, and suggested that the public should have been given more time to get used to the new law.
Longs Drugs store manager Vinia Rosa at Prince Kuhio Plaza said he’s seeing a spike in the use of reusable bags.
“People seems to be supportive of our environment, going green. There have been no complaints, nothing negative,” he said. Some people may have forgotten and do pay the 5-cent fee for a plastic bag — paper is unavailable at Longs — “but I think eventually everybody will get there and protect our aina,” Rosa said.
Toby Taniguchi, vice president of store operations at KTA, said the store took a different tack on the new requirement, charging 5 cents for the plastic bags, but returning 5 cents for reusable bags that the customers bring in themselves. “We’re not keeping the money, we’re giving it right back.”
Taniguchi offered testimony against parts of the legislation during hearings held in 2012, but doesn’t quarrel with its intent. “It’s a good bill. The single-use bag is what we have to get away from. We’re trying to be proactive. It’s a corporate decision,” he said, “We gotta do what’s right.”
KTA’s goal is to have all its customers using recyclable bags by 2014 when the second stage of the law kicks in, which will prohibit retailers from providing plastic bags with handles at checkout counters whether customers pay for them or not.
Until Jan. 17, 2014, retailers are free to charge what they wish — but they must charge something — for plastic bags at checkout counters under the provisions of the county ordinance which was adopted by the County Council and signed by Mayor Billy Kenoi following a series of public hearings last year.
Other plastic bags, without handles, which are generally used to transport meat, produce and bulk food items, garments and prescription drugs — are not affected by the law. Nonprofit organizations and community booster groups are also exempt from the law. Businesses that violate the law are subject to a fine of up to $1,000 a day for a third violation.
“It’s one step that will make a difference for the island we live on,” Taniguchi said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Email Hunter Bishop at firstname.lastname@example.org.