Four hundred plastic grocery bags were staked to the state Capitol lawn along Beretania Street on Thursday to call attention to a Senate bill that would impose a 10-cent fee on the disposable sacks and their paper counterparts and channel some of the revenue to watershed protection projects.
Girl Scout and Kalani High School sophomore Diana Sellner, along with about 15 of her friends, created the outdoor display to illustrate the number of disposable bags an average person on Oahu uses each year for a total of 400 million bags annually.
"It's a really good cause to help people of future generations," Sellner said after an afternoon news conference held near the display.
State Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Waikele-Ko Olina), one of the senators who introduced the bill, said SB 2511 is "a win-win" because "it cleans up our precious aina, and it raises money to protect our watersheds."
The bill would allot $800,000 of the projected revenues to the state Department of Health to run and enforce the program and $11 million to the Department of Land and Natural Resources to pay for its ambitious watershed projects.
If passed, the bill would not supercede county ordinances recently passed on Maui, Kauai and Hawaii that ban plastic grocery bags.
"The idea is that if you really need that bag and you decide, ‘I just have to pay for it,' you know that money will go to something that really benefits and supports Hawaii," said Robert Harris, director of the Sierra Club's Hawaii chapter. "So we're taking a problem and we're using it to create a solution that's going to help create water for generations to come."
Sellner isn't the only young person concerned about disposable bags. Ten-year-olds Christopher Teves of Cathedral Catholic Academy and Kai¬noa Keau¬lii of Pearl City Highlands Elementary School testified separately at a Senate hearing on SB 2511, while ‘Iolani School senior Jon Kane¬shiro drafted a similar House bill that was heard last month.
"My mom told me about this, and I got interested and started writing a speech, and one thing led to another," Keau¬lii said.
At his urging, his school's student council also sent in testimony in support of the bill.
"This bill has really brought a lot of young people and people of all ages to the Capitol," said Stuart Coleman, coordinator of the Surfrider Foundation in Hawaii. "That is just really inspiring."
Gabbard, chairman of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, decided to defer the bill for decision making until Tuesday to clarify some of the technical language and deal with concerns regarding how the revenues will be allotted.