Bag fee for watersheds
The House Committee on Finance voted Feb. 27 to pass HB 357, which would institute a fee on single-use checkout bags and direct revenues toward protecting freshwater sources.
“This is designed to change behavior, but also to protect something these bags spoil–the watershed,” said Stuart H. Coleman of the Surfrider Foundation at a Feb. 22 hearing.
The bill had already been passed by the committees on Energy and Environmental Protection and Consumer Protection and Commerce. In Finance, the vote came down to six ayes, eight reservations and three noes.
Coleman emphasized that the bill would institute a fee, not a tax. But James Macey said the distinction was irrelevant. “If it’s a tax or a fee, you’re still taking money from people,” he said in opposition.
But testimony at the hearing was primarily in support. “Finding a long-term solution to protect watersheds is a number one priority,” said Esther Kiaʻaina, deputy director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Robert Harris of the Sierra Club argued that the fee is particularly relevant because of county bans on plastic bags and increased use of paper bags, which cost 10 times as much as plastic. Normally, he said, the store would just raise prices without letting the customer know the bag’s cost; the bill, he said, takes what would otherwise be a hidden cost and give consumers a choice.
Harris and others highlighted that paper bags are not necessarily better for the environment than plastic. Paper bags take a toll on water resources and have a large carbon footprint because of shipping costs. Although bags are sometimes made of recycled material, trees are often cut down to produce them. And in an anaerobic environment like a landfill, paper bags don’t break down.
The responsible solution, most speakers said, is reusable bags. “We need to reverse a mentality of consumability,” said Jon Lott, a teacher at Farrington High School. And Harris said that previous programs, such as beverage container fees, show the approach can be effective. “When you put a cost on something, people conserve it,” he said.