Move over Don Ho! There's a new star in the nation's 43rd largest state.
It's the members of the Hawaii State Legislature and the Sierra Club's Hawaii Chapter, who have worked together for two years to ban single-use plastic bags in that state.
“This is groundbreaking,” said Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle.
In a ceremony that honored Hawaii as the first state in our nation to ban single-use plastic bags, Mayor Carlisle signed landmark legislation last week which, when combined with the state’s three other counties, made Hawaii's legislation effective "state-wide" — the first in the nation.
"Hawaii's legislation mirrors the spirit and intent of Southampton Village's BYO Bag law, passed one year ago this month", said Roger Blaugh, co-chair of Southampton Village's SAVE Committee, whose landmark legislation was also a first; the first of its kind in New York State.
With an outright ban, Hawaii's new law will reduce plastics garbage by many tons each year on an island, much like Long Island, that has no place to bury it, burn it or hide it from big spending tourists who demand pristine surroundings and have many vacation choices from which to choose.
Sara Goddard of Rye’s Sustainability Committee added, "This was not done by the state legislature alone, but, instead, by all four County Councils—a great example of local activists and decision makers addressing the serious issue of plastic pollution.” Blaugh and Goddard worked together on Rye's BYO Bag legislation which the Rye City Council passed unanimously in 2011.
Hawaii's legislators were likely influenced by the results of a recent study that showed a dramatic increase in plastics in an area of the Pacific Ocean called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Scripps Institution of Oceanography reported that the amount of plastic found in this area of the Pacific Ocean located 1,000 miles west of California has increased a 100-fold since the early 1970s.
"This floating island of garbage is thought to be twice the size of Texas”, said Blaugh. Scripps's findings could put pressure on coastal states like California to do more to reduce plastic trash going into waste streams and, ultimately, the Pacific Ocean.
"We were really surprised. It is a very large increase," Miriam Goldstein commented to Paul Rogers of MercuryNews.com. Ms. Goldstein is a PhD grad student in biological oceanography at Scripps and is the lead author of the Scripps study.
"Plastic had been detected in the open ocean in the early 1970s," she added. "People were raising the alarm then. The fact it has gotten so much worse is really disappointing."
According to the Mercury News report, during their 2009 expedition, Scripps researchers took extensive samples from the waters of the Pacific Gyre. They compared the amount of plastics found with water samples taken by researchers in 1972. The results astounded them.
Samples taken 40 years earlier contained little or no plastic. Today, however, vast stretches of the North Pacific are polluted with billions of tiny pieces of confetti-like trash that are broken down by the action of wind and the effects of constantly being tossed about by ocean waves, only to create tempting little bits of food-like particles that fish eat and ingest.
“This increase is astounding”, Blaugh said of the Scripps findings. “People should have reason for concern. This directly impacts the food chain on both coasts, as it likely impacts the breeding and sustainability of fish stocks.”
Long Island, like Hawaii is surrounded by the sea and commercial fishing fleets, like those in Hampton Bays and Montauk, NY, still bring in a annual catch with an estimated dock side value in the tens of millions of dollars.
“Quality fish and good catches are as important to our economic survival as it is to our health,” Blaugh adds.
Fishing still represents an important source of income for many area families who are major suppliers of fresh seafood to local restaurants and stores, both locally and in the metropolitan New York market, including New York City.
“Imagine for one moment that the fish we bring to our dinner tables at home and in restaurants were the same fish that dined on these little bits of plastic, instead of healthy plankton and seaweed”, Blaugh asked, referring to a similar “gyre” known to exist in the North Atlantic Ocean.
“These gyres are floating microcosms that act as nurseries for certain fish hatch. It's where the little fish are given an opportunity to grow up into the bigger fish that our commercial fishermen catch and that we ultimately eat. Instead of the healthful food we hope to enjoy, these same fish could become toxic or even cancer causing, unless we stop polluting our coastal waters now, and not sometime years from now, when it’s too late to reverse the course. I know of no other solution.”
Blaugh and four other volunteers who serve on the Village of Southampton’s SAVE Committee, continue to work on expanding the BYO Bag legislation that they introduced in NY State. Numerous municipalities from around New England have contacted SAVE's members for help in starting programs of their own.
"We're always happy to help others, as are the sustainability committees of Rye and Westport, with whom we've worked in the past," Blaugh added.
At the present time, the Town of Southampton, a separate government than the Incorporated Village of Southampton, is operating an education program, sponsored primarily by the major retail food stores impacted financially by such a law, which concerns Blaugh and his committee.
“One day, the value of leaving our local environment in better condition than we found it, will find its way onto the balance sheets of Town’s like Southampton. “ Blaugh said, referring to the conflict of interest that a sponsoring retail store could have in determining the outcome of an educational program's effect and subsequent legislation.
The Town of Southampton, which Blaugh emphasizes is a separate government entity surrounding the Incorporated Village of Southampton, like a doughnut around its hole, is a coastal community of roughly 59,000 residents, who live 70 miles east of New York City on the narrow South Fork of Long island. Both Southamptons, know generally as "The Hamptons", as are their cousins "West" and East", are situated between two of our nation's most economically and ecologically significant waterways; the Peconic Bay Estuary, which is included in the National Estuary Program, and the NY State designated Long Island South Shore Estuary Reserve.
“We can all be good Scouts and good businesspersons, too. But the example of what is good for our environment must begin in local government first, and then followed by its citizens who have a business to develop and a responsibility to the community, too. We can’t take our blessings for granted, lest future Town Board members and businesspersons alike have little more respect for the land than the examples we set for them today.”
Along with over 300 miles of bay shoreline and 19,000 acres of inland tidal areas, Southampton Town is blessed by nearly 20 miles of pristine Atlantic Ocean beaches, which have been ranked as some of the best beaches in America and as some of the finest vacation spots in the world.
Southampton Town will revisit its town-wide BYO Bag law later this year. Mr. Blaugh said that he is “forever hopeful and,” more especially, “patient.”
But, with the news of the hundred-fold increase of plastics in the Pacific, is time running out for this waterfront community?