Group says "biodegradable" bags are misleading

Published On: May 05 2014 03:35:00 PM HST

"This bag says it's 100 percent biodegradable.  That's actually a lie," said Suzanne Frazer with the nonprofit B.E.A.C.H.

Click here to watch Lara Yamada's story.

Frazer says the word "biodegradable" has been so abused and misused, California has banned businesses from using the word.  She says consumers are being misled about what they're actually buying into.

"They swapped over from plastic bags to these plastic bags.  They're still plastic bags!" said Frazer.

In 2012, Frazer took the bags at health food store Down To Earth, and other items labeled biodegradable, to nationally-certified Soil Control Labs in California.

Tests found polyethylene, the most common form of plastic, was not only a component, but the major component.

"This misleads the public into thinking they're doing the right thing by accepting this bag," said Frazer.

"I was part of it, and I don't think we all realized the problem we were creating," said City Councilman Breene Harimoto.

In April 2012, the Honolulu City Council passed a plastic bag ban for Oahu, effective July of next year, but it exempts what are labeled "biodegradable."

Harimoto says Frazer's efforts convinced him and the mayor to change course.

"ENV cannot determine what really is OK and what really is not OK.  So, it's unenforceable," said Harimoto.

"We're going to have to go into a store, ask what kind of bag they have, and if it is biodegradable, how long does it take to break down and how do we prove that?" said Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

"I think we debated this issue over two years ago," said Council Chair Ernie Martin.

Martin says the initial bill was a total ban, but industry reps convinced him to exempt biodegradables.  He believes a testing process can be implemented by year's end, so current language can stand.

"So, for us to keep kicking the can down the road, very disappointing," said Martin.

"There is no such thing as a biodegradable plastic bag,  If it feels like a plastic bag, looks like a plastic bag, it is a plastic bag," said Frazer.

Maui and Hawaii County have already implemented total plastic bag bans while Kauai County allows so-called "biodegradable" bags.

Bill 38, which calls for a total ban on Oahu, will have its first reading on Wednesday at 10 a.m. at Honolulu Hale.

Down To Earth's Chief Organic Officer released the following statement:

"Down to Earth appreciates how difficult it is to enforce a biodegradable option in the plastics bag bill, especially when industry failed last fall to produce a definition for what constitutes a biodegradable plastic."

"Our bag suppliers assured us that the plastic bags are biodegradable. Down to Earth continues to research other options for environmentally friendly, single-use bags."

"We respect and appreciate Hawaii's land, its beauty and natural resources, which nurture and sustain us. This is why we care deeply about taking care of our aina and why we support environmental solutions that contribute to a cleaner and safer environment."


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