All plastic bags, including compostable ones, will be banned in Oahu stores beginning in 2020, and that's just the start of the city's coming restrictions on plastics.
The city began prohibiting plastic bags in 2012, but provided a few exceptions. Through 2019, the city allowed stores to hand out compostable plastic bags and reusable plastic bags greater than 2.5 mils thick.
Mils is the unit of measurement for plastic thickness. One mil is about .0254 mm.
On Jan. 1, the reusable plastic bags will need to be five times thicker and compostable bags will be completely banned.
City Councilmember Brandon Elefante introduced the amendment to the city’s plastic bag law in 2017.
“At the end of the day, all of this [plastic] goes back into the environment, whether we send it to H-Power and burn it or recycle it -- it all goes back,” he said. “There’s a way to basically be more proactive about how we use our plastics."
Adrian Hong, president of Island Plastic Bags, explained that compostable bags are made out of materials that can break down within 90 days.
“These composting facilities had a lot of heat, a lot of light, a lot of oxygen and a lot of really active organisms, microorganisms,” he said. “It's a place where it's very easy for things to biodegrade.”
But the problem with compostable plastic bags, Elefante said, is that Honolulu does not have a composting facility that can break them down.
For Hong, the shifting city laws on plastic use have been difficult to navigate.
“Because they keep changing the rules, businesses have a very hard time coping with that, especially manufacturing facilities,” Hong said.
Hong said when the ban was first implemented in 2012, he considered acquiring equipment to manufacture compostable plastic bags.
“I’m really glad that we didn’t invest that money because you couldn’t recoup it at this point,” he said. “We didn’t want to put a million dollars down in case something changed with the law.”
Hong is now looking to sell his customers paper bags as alternatives to plastic ones.
Beyond plastic bags, the city is phasing in Bill 40, which establishes a sweeping ban on single-use plastic and polystyrene foodware for Oahu. By January 2022, plastic and polystyrene service items like utensils and lidded containers will be prohibited.
Officials are expecting confusion on the part of consumers and businesses as the law takes hold. The city Department of Environmental Services plans an outreach campaign to educate the public on the requirements.