As dozens of local Connecticut communities debate the merits of local bag bans, the state of Connecticut is also considering single use bag legislation. There are two statewide proposals circulating and they are both flawed from the retail community’s perspective.
The Governor’s proposal calls for a 10-cent fee on only plastic bags, which is recouped by the state. This scheme benefits the state but does not take into account added costs to businesses or have a contingency for seniors or low income consumers.
The Environment Committee recently passed Senate Bill 1003, which has no fee and bans plastic bags. If enacted this scenario will push consumers away from plastic to paper which solves one problem but creates another. Paper is expensive to recycle and doesn’t degrade easily in landfills. Given the cost of paper bag production and distribution, the carbon footprint of paper bags is equally dismal. Based on our experience with legislation in other states and months of discussions with local activists, environmentalists, and the recycling community, we believe that a fee for paper bags — coupled with a ban on plastic bags — is the most effective way to institute any new law.
The Connecticut Food Association’s proposal for statewide regulation on bags prioritizes environmental preservation, creates a universal playing field void of pre-emptions or exemptions; employs a state-sponsored consumer education program; benefits a state-designated environmental cause, and allows consumers and retailers of all sizes to adjust to considerable, but necessary behavioral change over time. Reusable bags are the best and most-sustainable option to solve the problem of disposable checkout bags. Retailers and the state effort should focus on adopting effective strategies and educating consumers so a growing number opt for reusable bags in place of disposable ones.
The best long-term solution to the disposable checkout bag problem is to replace them with reusable ones. Although retailers offer reusable bags, along with disposable paper and plastic ones, 9 out of 10 consumers choose disposable plastic. The retail industry agrees that it will take time and investment to change customer shopping habits and convert stores.
Proposal for Consideration
A phased approach is the best solution for the environment, consumers and the retail community. All retailers in Connecticut must comply, regardless of store size.
Phase One – begins shortly after legislation is passed:
i. $.10 fee for all disposable checkout paper and plastic bags
ii. 12 months of communication, preparation and consumer education
Expected Results: 60% reduction of all disposable checkout bags
Phase Two – 12 months after legislation is passed
iii. Disposable plastic checkout bags are banned outright
iv. Fee for disposable checkout paper bags increases to $.20
Expected Result: 90% reduction of all single-use checkout bags.
And 50% of the bag charge will be transferred to an Environmental Protection Fund (EPF). The other 50% of the bag fees will be retained by the retailer to help offset the cost of conversion to reusable bags including, but not limited to:
v. Stocking, displaying and discounting reusable bags with signage and advertising
vi. Educating customers on the benefits of conversion to reusable
vii. Redesigning checkout stands to accommodate reusable bags
viii. Training front end employees to handle reusable bags, operationally
ix. Training all store employees on the sustainability of reuse
We must also solve for SNAP/WIC recipients on the front side, so as not to end up with a loose set of exceptions that fall to the retailer and perpetuate reliance on disposable bags.
The ultimate policy goal should be to push consumers to the use/reuse of HD reusable bags, which in turn significantly reduces material consumption and takes tonnage out of municipal recycling facilities, incinerators and our environment.
Wayne Pesce is President of the Connecticut Food Association, which is included among the sponsors of this website. For more information, visit plasticfilmrecycling.org.
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