story by Harriette Yahr
Maui windsurfer Robynne Riley had seen one too many sea turtles choking on plastic shopping bags, which the turtles mistake for food. So in June 2007, Riley got the merchants of the beach town of Pa‘ia together to brainstorm. Sixteen months and lots of grass-roots organizing later, Pa‘ia joined forward-thinking cities like Seattle and San Francisco and became the first town in Hawai‘i to voluntarily ban plastic shopping bags. That means roughly 39,000 plastic bags a month no longer sit in landfills, pollute beaches or wreak havoc on marine life.
But finding substitutes for something so convenient and ubiquitous as the plastic bag takes more than good intentions. It takes imagination, and Pa‘ia’s merchants have found creative solutions. Be Happy, a gift shop and venue for musicians run by Lisa Alo, got into the green groove by designing a reusable bag from spun bamboo. Local artist Tami Snodgras’ “Pa‘ia Bring Your Own Bag” canvas tote, which helps fund the project, is a big seller down the street at Primitive Rhythm. “Visitors get really excited about what we’re doing,” says shopkeeper Luna Barrows.
Rock stars, movie stars, art stars, surf stars signed on to the cause—literally. Limited edition reusable totes autographed by resident luminaries Woody Harrelson, Willie Nelson, Jack Johnson and Laird Hamilton are being auctioned off to fund the effort. Artist Peter Max lent his pop-icon brush by designing a signature bag. “This way, there’s money to stock the town with reusable bags and encourage the sustainable ‘no mo’ baggage’ lifestyle,” says Riley, who footed additional bills with her credit card.
What difference can replacing a plastic bag make? “It’s common sense,” says Willie Nelson. “What’s there not to understand about eliminating as much plastic as possible from our daily lives?” In August, the Maui County Council agreed, passing Hawai‘i’s first municipal ban on plastic shopping bags. The ban is set to take effect in 2011—enough time for others to catch the wave of volunteerism set in motion by Pa‘ia. HH