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by Pearl Hahn

Last year, Maui passed the state’s first municipal ban on plastic bags. The law will take effect in January 2011. The Big Island followed suit, and will eancourage businesses to offer 100 percent recyclable paper bags that must be made out of at least 40 percent post-consumer recycled content. Will Kauai be next?

While San Francisco and Los Angeles have banned plastic, eco-conscious Seattle voters soundly rejected a 20-cent charge on their bags last month.

Seattle resident Jim Reitz supported the concept behind the tax, but ended up voting against the measure because he did not think the city would properly manage the money raised by the tax. Seattle had expected to collect $10 million in annual revenue.

New York City also dropped a proposed 5-cent bag fee in June. Philadelphia rejected a ban.

Kauai must avoid following in the footsteps of neighboring islands. However, the island’s County Council may be on the verge of passing Bill No. 2321, which would ban the use of plastic bags at retail stores. If passed in its current state, the bill would only allow retail stores to provide recyclable paper bags, biodegradable bags, and reusable bags. Violations would range from $100 for the first infringement to $500 per violation.

The manufacturing of plastic bags actually emits much less pollutants than paper bags and doesn’t require cutting down forests. Producing a grocery paper bag requires over four times the energy than a plastic bag- 2,511 BTUs versus 594 BTUs. Paper bags also consume much more energy in recycling, requiring 1,444 BTUs while a plastic bag requires only 17 BTUs.

A plastic bag ban is bad news for environmentalists. If they have to ban one based on the goal of reducing pollution, they should have picked paper.

Even better, bring your own reusable bag the next time you shop for groceries.

Pearl can be reached at pearl@grassrootinstitute.org