A bill that would attach a $0.05 fee to each plastic or paper bag consumers receive at retailers is back though Gov. Dannel P. Malloy indicated Monday morning he didn’t like the measure as it would make it more difficult for him to clean up after his dogs.
“I have two dogs, I need those bags,” he said after an unrelated press conference. The plastic bags enable him to clean up around the property around governor’s mansion on Prospect Avenue, he said.
Malloy isn’t the first governor to dislike the concept. A similar bill,submitted in 2009, was met with criticisms from lawmakers and former Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who said she hated the idea and indicated that more positive measures were likely to be more effective in altering consumer behaviors. That bill failed to pass.
Though the bill was unpopular, a 2009 fiscal analysis report indicated it would have generated $20 million in revenue for fiscal year 2011.
But Connecticut Food Association President Stan Sorkin said that the food stamp exception would be almost impossible to use effectively. Because food stamps are now closer to debit cards than physical food stamps, the measure would put considerable strain on cashiers who must determine whom is exempted from the fees, Sorkin said. It would be difficult to exempt a food stamp recipient without embarrassing that person, he said.
Though the food association supported the 2009 bill, Sorkin said now is not the right time to be adding an additional fee on consumers. Instead, he said that some voluntary programs, already in existence, are a better way to curb consumer behavior.
For instance, some retailers already offer a $.05 discount for using reusable bags.
“It can be more effective to reward a positive action rather than punishing negative behavior,” he said. “When people are doing it because they want to do it, that’s the right thing to do.”
But Sorkin also saw positive aspects to the bill. The fact that the measure would impact both paper and plastic bags was a good thing, he said, since both materials have a negative impact on the environment.
But like Governor Malloy, Sorkin said people still need the bags. Many people use them to line trash baskets or pick up after their dogs, he said.
“You can’t go too far, you have to leave options,” he said. If not people will end up having to purchase bags off the shelves, adding another cost to consumers and hurting the environment.
Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, who opposed the 2009 bill, said Monday that the bill does not provide consumers with any incentive to stop using plastic bags.
“Charging a nickel to use plastic bags is punitive, that’s not an incentive,” he said.
Despite the state’s budget deficit, which seems to find its way into the debate on every issue, Candelora said the projected $20 million the measure could generate doesn’t justify adding another tax for Connecticut residents.
“Connecticut certainly has a fiscal issue but that should not be blinding us. I think bad policy is still bad policy,” he said.
The 2009 bill was also criticized as being a regressive tax that would likely have a greater impact on the poor. The new bill, submitted by Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, is written so the fee would not apply to consumers who receive food stamps.
Meyer said the bill represents a compromise. Another idea, he said, was to ban one-time use plastic bags altogether but that could be perceived over-reaching by state government. The nickel fee is smaller than actions taken by other governments, like the country of Ireland, which he said has imposed a fee that amounts to $.15 on plastic bags. In 2002, the BBC reported that the fee helped cut plastic bag use in that country by 90 percent. That is good for the environment since the bags have a lifetime of over 100 years, he said.
But Candelora said now might not be the appropriate time to promote the use of reusable bags in light of some new studies, which found high levels of lead and bacteria in commonly used reusable shopping bags. One of the studies was conducted by the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), a nonprofit consumer advocacy group.
A poll conducted for the study found that many Americans, 56 percent, are unaware of lead and high bacteria content in the bags. Another 68 percent said they have either never washed their reusable bags or have washed them only once in the last years.
“Demonizing, taxing, or banning plastic bags—as they have in San Francisco, Los Angeles County and San Jose—is a perfect example of knee-jerk, feel-good regulation that brings with it myriad unintended consequences,” said CCF Senior Research Analyst J. Justin Wilson. “Politicians often respond to activist-driven junk science by demonizing, banning or taxing products without giving any thought to what people will use instead. Now recent research demonstrates that some of these bags contain lead and can be a breeding ground for bacteria. In the end, the new alternative can end up being worse than its replacement.”
Meyer conceded that Candelora had a valid point but said the problem could be easily remedied by educating the public. The reusable bags have been popular with the public and they are very easy to clean and wash, he said.
“I think he makes a good point, but when we use a cloth bag and it has stains from carrying meat, for instance, we just wash the bag,” he said.
The bill is currently in the Environment Committee.