Christine Stuart photo
Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr. (Christine Stuart photo)

On Earth Day, Republicans and Democrats held a Capitol press conference to proclaim their support for legislation that would phase out the use of plastic bags and the use of plastic microbeads in cosmetic products.

The plastic bag bill, which was raised in 2009, 2011, and again this year, would impose a 10-cent fee on customers for each plastic bag they are given at a store. Under this year’s bill, plastic bags would be phased out completely and by October 2019 and stores would only be able to sell reusable bags. The bill has made it through two committees and both Republicans and Democrats expressed optimism about its chances this year.

Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr., co-chairman of the Environment Committee, said he’s hopeful they can craft a proposal that everyone can agree upon. He said they are talking with retailers who oppose the legislation to see if they can’t reach consensus.

“It’s a pretty strong bill,” Kennedy said.

Rep. John Shaban, R-Redding, said he could support the bill with a couple of “tweaks.” He said they are talking with retailers about the best way to approach the problem. The problem is that large numbers of non-biodegradable plastic bags end up in Connecticut’s waterways and neighborhoods.

Christine Stuart photo

Rep. James Albis, D-East Haven, said the Wall Street Journal estimated that Americans use 100 billion plastic bags every year and each plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to break down. The average family accumulates 60 bags in just four trips to the grocery store, Albis said.

“Due to their inability to biodegrade, single-use plastic bags have become one of the most common forms of litter found in our environment,” Albis said.

The legislation is being opposed by the Connecticut Food Association, which represents the grocery stores.

Stan Sorkin, president of the Connecticut Food Association, testified that asking customers to spend disposable income on plastic bags is an unfair burden for working families.

“We believe that working families and inner city residents and senior citizens should not be faced with the expense of paying 10-cent fees on non-reusable bags, and thus reducing their disposable income that could be spent on necessities,” Sorkin testified in February.

Sorkin told the Environment Committee that Connecticut residents have embraced the reusable bags and there’s no reason to impose an additional fee on them.

Kennedy said they are working with the grocers and the retail industry to reach a compromise.

“Good business policy and good environmental policy are not mutually exclusive,” Shaban said.

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy hasn’t embraced the legislation. As a dog owner, Malloy wondered what he will use to pick up after his Jack Russell terriers.

“I have two dogs. I need those bags,” Malloy said in 2011.

Asked about the legislation in January, Malloy offered a similar response.

“I’m an owner of a couple of dogs,’’ Malloy said at an unrelated press conference. “I appreciate those plastic bags being around.”

Both Kennedy and Shaban were more optimistic about the passage of a bill that would ban microbeads in cosmetic products.

Microbeads are tiny plastic particles used as abrasive or exfoliating agents in more than 100 different personal care products, including facial scrubs, soaps, cosmetics, and even toothpaste. They are made of plastic and end up in waterways.

Sean Moore, associate director of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association — a trade association representing the leading manufacturers of over-the-counter medicines and dietary supplements — told the Environment Committee in March that the organization is not necessarily opposed to the phase-out of the plastic microbeads. However, he said Connecticut should try and mirror existing laws in other states to ensure the phase out happens on the same timeline.

Kennedy said they are working on language to adjust the dates in the bill to align with the other states.

“It’s not practical to have 50 states with 50 different rules,” he said.