Opala (Waste)

With growing awareness on the issue of plastic debris and its negative impact on
the environment and marine life comes a bevy of plastic bills for the 2011 legislative
session. As U.S. counties and countries around the world continue to enact plastic
bag bans and fees, Hawaii strives to be the first to implement a statewide policy.

Hawaii’s beautiful unique geographic location also means unique opala issues. The
average person in Hawaii produces 6.2 pounds of opala a day. Where does it go?
The “solution” thus far has been landfills, but with suitable landfill space becoming
scarcer, last year saw serious discussion about such drastic steps as paying to ship
trash to the mainland! Burning trash for energy has been an equally inelegant
solution. Overflow or improperly disposed trash can find its way into the ocean.

Plastic bags and debris now gather in all of the major ocean gyres, forming massive
patches of trash up to millions of square miles, essentially never fully degrading.
Millions of sea turtles, sea birds and other marine life including whales are killed
each year by ingestion of or entanglement in plastic debris.

Plastic bag bans and fees have proven to effectively reduce the amount of trash
produced and plastic entering the environment. This is an exciting year for Hawaii,
one where we may see a move to protecting one of Hawaii’s greatest resources- the

Stay tuned for more information about hearings!

Solid Waste

Hawaii residents generate a whopping average of at least 6.2 pounds of opala each, daily.  That’s 41% greater than the national average (4.4 pounds per person) and 210% greater than the average German resident (less than 2 pounds daily).  This wastefulness is compounded by our lack of recycling with more than two-thirds of our waste being land-filled or incinerated.

For example, on Oahu, the Waimanalo Gulch sanitary landfill is one of our tallest man-made structures -- 510 feet above sea level -- exceeding the island’s building height limitation by over 100 feet.  It is also likely the dirtiest, receiving $2.8 million in fines in the past few years for 18 environmental violations.  No obvious new landfill locations are available and the last selection process produced such unattractive options as Koko Head crater or building a landfill over our sole source of drinking water.  

The solid waste crisis facing Hawaii cannot be ignored.  The fact of the matter is that solid waste is a hundred trillion dollar industry annually, and the State’s Office of Solid Waste Management (OSWM) established in 1991 is presently under-funded and overburdened with too many functions and duties, making it practically impossible for them to effectively accomplish all that the Legislature expects. With better planning, management, and aggressive policies, we could reduce the amount of waste we produce and reap the benefits of reduced costs, preservation of the beauty of our state, and ensure the State's long-term sustainability.


Sewage spill after sewage spill. Despite some of the most pristine marine systems in the United States, Hawaii doesn't do a very good job of reducing its wastewater production or ensuring this water is appropriately cleaned and recycled.

Key Bills:

SB1059 - This bill is a plastic bag ban that allows stores to still distribute paper
or biodegradable plastic bags. It currently states that beginning on July 1,
2012, businesses with annual gross sales of over $300,000 are prohibited from
distributing single-use plastic checkout bags to their customers at the point of

SB1363 – This is a fee bill stating that beginning on July 1, 2012, any business having
a gross annual income of $500,000 or more shall charge and collect an offset fee of
25 cents for each non-reusable checkout bag provided to a customer. This bill is
scheduled to be heard Tuesday, February 28, 2011 in room 225. You can testify by
emailing ENETestimony@Capitol.hawaii.gov and referencing the bill number, your
name, address, and the date/time of the hearing.

SB1370 – This ban bill would require businesses with annual gross sales of over
$250,000 to switch to biodegradable plastic bags beginning on January 1, 2012.

HB891 - This bill would ban non-compostable plastic bags beginning January 1,
2013 for all business operators of businesses with annual gross sales of $500,000 or

HB998 – This bill would require businesses to collect a 10 cent fee on disposable
plastic checkout bags beginning January 1, 2012. The business would keep half of
the fee, and the other half would go towards the Energy sustainability special fund.

HB1401 – This bill mandates the use of recyclable, compostable, and reusable
checkout bags by businesses with annual gross sales over $250,000 beginning
January 1, 2012.

HB1601 - This bill states that beginning on July 1, 2012, all business operators are
prohibited from providing plastic carryout bags to consumers at the point of sale,
including compostable plastic bags, but still allowing paper bags.

Note: Most bills still allow plastic bags necessary for produce, grains, newspapers,
dry-cleaning, prescriptions and the like. As currently stated in the bills, a statewide
fee would not overturn the bans already in place in Maui and Kauai counties.

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Legislative Tracker

Below is the legislative tracker for all of the Opala bills introduced at the 2011 Legislature.  You can view the status updates as well as a list of other organizations that might be active in supporting or opposing these bills.