On Wednesday, Hawaii officially became the first state to ban nonbiodegradable plastic bags at checkout counters. There is also a ban on all paper bags comprised of less than 40% post-consumer recycled material. Recyclable paper bags and reusable and biodegradable plastic bags are, however, permitted.
Between 2011 and 2013, Kauai, Maui and Hawaii Counties introduced the same ban, but it wasn't until Wednesday that the ban in Honolulu County, the most populated of them, went into effect, making the Aloha State the first in the U.S. to officially institute a full ban.
"Being a marine state, perhaps, we are exposed more directly to the impacts of plastic pollution and the damage it does to our environment," Robert Harris, Sierra Club's Hawaii chapter director, told NBC in 2012. "People in Hawaii are more likely to be in the water or in the outdoors and see the modern day tumbleweed — plastic bags — in the environment."
Hawaii's cousin, California, was also on schedule to enact a similar statewide ban on single-use plastic bags, but the move was halted in February when the secretary of state introduced a referendum for the November 2016 elections in which Californians will vote on whether or not to overturn the law.
While convenient in the moment, plastic bag usage is plaguing humanity and the earth. More than 1 million plastic bags are used every minute. Every year, enough plastic is thrown away to circle the planet at least four times, and half of that is used only once before being discarded.
Other countries have attempted to discourage plastic bag use by charging for them, such as the United Kingdom, which passed legislation in 2013. Curtailing use of and reliance on plastic is long overdue. The fact there's enough one-time use plastic to circle the world twice is simply not sustainable. The plastic isn't going anywhere, and we could probably make better use of our limited space than storing tons and tons of plastic relegated never to be used again.