(Star Advertiser) Lee Cataluna: Plastic bags are bad, but good when mayor says so

(Source: Star Advertiser)

                                Mayor Kirk Caldwell spoke Monday on how large yellow trash bags will be used by Chinatown businesses.


    Mayor Kirk Caldwell spoke Monday on how large yellow trash bags will be used by Chinatown businesses.

Hold on to your head, the back-and-forth is dizzying.

The city, after years of debate, recently enacted a ban on plastic bags and is now seriously talking about banning all single-use plastics.

Why? Plastic is bad. Plastic bags are a scourge on the environment. The mayor and the City Council worked long and hard to convince the public of that and to accept the necessary inconveniences of doing better.

But then, Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced last week that in order to solve a festering trash problem on the streets of Chinatown, merchants there must put out their rubbish in — wait, what??? — plastic bags.

So plastics are bad except when they make stuff more convenient for the city. Got it.

The new Chinatown trash bags, which are to be used only by area merchants who already pay extra for special six-days-a-week trash pickup, are not just regular old trash bags like you can buy from Longs. They are special locally made, extra-thick, bright yellow trash bags produced by a company that was particularly vocal in criticizing the city’s recent ban on plastic bags in retail stores.

Just two years ago, when the City Council was considering two different versions of a plastic ban bill, Caldwell advocated for the one that called for eliminating the distribution of all plastic bags by January 2020.

“One bill, I believe, moves us backward, allows plastic bags to continue to be used … which I believe is unacceptable,” Caldwell said.

The brightly colored, extra-thick plastic bags introduced last week are meant to address two problems: one, people who don’t pay for six-days-a-week service but who sneak their trash onto a legit pile; and two, trash-pickers who break into bags and rummage through the piles, strewing garbage all over the sidewalk. The thicker plastic is supposedly harder to cut open, so the tempting food scraps and cardboard boxes, which are often used for sleeping mats, have a better chance of sitting undisturbed on the curb overnight until the city trucks roll through.

Once again, government is trying a convoluted maneuver around the real problem, which is scavengers roaming the streets of Honolulu’s Chinatown in the middle of the night foraging for food and bits of cardboard for shelter. How are we allowing people to live like this?

And once again, Caldwell is turning a small thing into a photo opportunity, a “look at me making a difference in the community” dog-and-pony show for the media. Perhaps it is to be expected that everything the mayor does from now until the end of his term is going to be in service of his gubernatorial campaign.

And also, again, the burden of Honolulu’s ongoing trash problem is falling to citizens who obey the law, making it more complicated and expensive for them to outsmart the illegal dumpers and scavengers.

Yay, for attempts to clean up the streets of Chinatown, but maybe move on to the idea of locked bins, which doesn’t seem quite so hypocritical.

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