Rich Carey via shutterstock

HARTFORD, CT — Trying to capitalize on the growing momentum against single-use plastic bags across Connecticut, proponents have submitted two bills to the General Assembly this week: one that would ban them, and another that would require retailers charge a fee for each bag.

The bills have been sent to the General Assembly’s Environment Committee.

CLICK TO VOTE ON HB 5245: An Act Concerning The Use Of Plastic Straws, Stirrers, Single Use Plastic Bags, Polystyrene Packaging, Helium Balloons And Products That Contain Microplastics

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One bill, HB 5245, co-sponsored by Reps. David Michel, D-Stamford and Josh Elliott, D-Hamden, calls for prohibiting the use of plastic bags, straws, stirrers, polystyrene packaging, helium balloons released into the atmosphere, and products that contain microplastics.

“As the co-owner of two grocery stores, I completely support these measures,” Elliott said. “We have already begun moving away from plastic bags over the last couple of years — using exclusively paper at the register, and recently using biodegradable bags for produce and bulk.”

Elliott is manager of Thyme & Season in Hamden and co-owner of Shelton’s The Common Bond Market — two family-run natural food stores.

Elliott added: “Some customers aren’t in love with the switch, but the vast majority appreciate the proactive approach we are taking to our civic responsibility.”

The Hamden legislator said: “It’s unclear whether we will be getting a ban on plastic bags, or simply a surcharge. I support both, but the long-term approach must be an intention to phase out plastic bags altogether.”

Although plastic bags have gotten the lion’s share of news headlines when it comes to environmental damage, Branford Representative Town Meeting member James Walker suggested the town should also consider a ban on the purchase and sale of plastic helium balloons.

He referred to the balloons as “agents of death” to marine wildlife and “horrific litter.” He said other forward-thinking communities had enacted such bans.

The other plastic bill proposed to the Environment Committee was submitted by Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton. It calls for a 5-cent tax on anyone using single-use plastic and paper bags in an effort to curtail or eliminate their use. Funds from such a tax, the bill states, would be used for environmental purposes.

The bill said the 5-cent tax would hopefully serve as an incentive for consumers to use reusable bags.

Supermarket chain Big Y, which has 30 stores across Connecticut, announced last week that it will phase out single-use plastic bags in its stores by 2020.

National chains Costco and Aldi, which both have stores in Connecticut, currently do not provide free single-use plastic bags.

“It certainly has become a hot topic,” Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, co-chair of the legislature’s Environment Committee said this week. She said she wouldn’t be surprised to see more plastic bag bans submitted before the bill deadline is reached.

“We are only at the organizational stage at this point of our meeting agendas,” said Cohen, who herself is new to the state legislature, having won election in this past November to the 12th Senate District seat replacing Ted Kennedy, Jr.

“But it’s an issue that has been generating a lot of discussion in a lot of towns and I’m sure it’s something we will be discussing up here at the state level at some point soon,” Cohen said.

She noted that just this week the town of Norwalk joined Stamford, Greenwich, and Westport in voting for plastic bag bans and/or fees to use the bags in an effort to curtail or stop their use.

Various discussions about plastic bag bans have been held in recent weeks at meetings in New Haven, Hamden, Branford, Guilford, and North Branford, among others.

Many of those discussions have been initiated by environmental groups who say they are tired of waiting for state legislators to act.

It isn’t just environmentalists that are hoping the state will hop on board the movement.

The Connecticut Food Association, for one, is hoping the state will act.

“With 169 towns and cities in Connecticut, a one-by-one plan doesn’t make sense,” Wayne Pesce, president of the association, said. “This scenario is not broad enough, makes it difficult for retailers to comply, and is confusing for consumers.”

“Over the last year or so we have been working with legislators, recyclers and environmental groups to solve this problem via statewide legislation,” Pesce added. “The purpose of this law would be to significantly reduce the amount of single-use bags distributed at retail and to encourage consumers in Connecticut to use their own reusable bags for shopping.”