Christine Stuart photo
Majority Leader Denise Merrill and Adrienne Esposito (Christine Stuart photo)

Some Connecticut lawmakers want to pass legislation they hope will change how some people shop.

The legislation, which made it through the Environment Committee last week, will require all retail stores to charge consumers a nickel fee for every plastic or paper bag they need to carry their goods out of a store.

“It’s a bill whose time has come,” Majority Leader Denise Merrill, D-Mansfield, said Tuesday morning. “It’s an incentive for all of us to change our habits.”

The bill doesn’t force anyone to bring a reusable tote bag into a store, but it attaches a nickel to each paper or plastic bag.

Merrill said she tries to remember to bring her reusable totes with her into the store, but sometimes leaves them in her car. She said if there was a five-cent fee she may be inclined to go back to the car and get the bags.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said one of the greatest societal challenges is changing human behavior.

“We have a large problem with a simple solution,” she said. For a $5 investment in reusable bags, like the ones made popular by grocery store chains, “we can solve the plastic bag crisis.”

But Stan Sorkin, president of the Connecticut Food Association, said he wouldn’t be supporting the legislation if it was just about plastic bags. He said if it was just on plastic bags consumers would shift to paper, which would place an undue burden on the stores because paper bags are more expensive than plastic.

He said grocery stores were ahead of the curve in offering consumers a nickel back if they bring in reusable bags. He said over the past year grocery stores have sold 1.4 million reusable bags.

Rep. Kim Fawcett, D-Fairfield, said there are some exemptions in the bill. For example the very big thick plastic bags you may get at a department store would be exempt from the nickel fee.

If the bill passes the General Assembly, Merrill said the state may receive as much as $10 million in the first year based on a reduction in the number of plastic bags currently in use. Last year Connecticut residents took home 400 million single-use plastic bags. She said the $10 million in revenue assumes a 50 percent reduction in plastic bag use. 

The nickel fee would go toward environmental and municipal recycling programs.