Bills seek to limit disposable plastic bags

Creative Commons photo
Plastic bags blow in the breeze. Creative Commons photo
Plastic bags are sometimes said to last forever, but they might not last much longer in Vermont after legislators last week introduced a bill to ban single-use carryout bags.

The bill, H.105, is one of two intended to curb the use of disposable plastic bags. Another, H.88, would impose a 10-cent fee at the register on most disposable plastic bags.

Both bills contain exemptions that their sponsors say are meant to insulate small-business owners from unwanted effects. The ban would not apply to compostable bags or recycled paper bags, for instance, and the 10-cent fee wouldn’t apply to retailers that use fewer than 20,000 plastic bags each year.

Placing some sort of sanction on the use of plastic carryout bags is an easy way to meaningfully improve the environment, said legislators presenting the bills.

“This bill would just ban plastic bags and make us think of another way,” said Rep. Michael Mrowicki, D-Putney, who sponsored the bill banning plastic bags. “If we want to give our children a cleaner planet, this is one of the easiest things we can do.”

The fee bill’s sponsor said it’s about changing behavior.

“The purpose of this bill is to cut down on … the consumption of materials used for disposable bags, and (to) encourage people to use reusable carryout bags,” said Rep. Michael Yantachka, D-Charlotte. “We all have the experience of going into the store and remembering that the bags are in the car. This will give one more incentive to bring the bags in.”

Retailers say either bill will harm their business, even though they would keep 2 cents of the 10-cent fee and would, under the bag ban, be relieved of the expense of providing them for free.

“Retailers provide bags to consumers as a common courtesy,” said Erin Sigrist, president of the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association. “If I’m a tourist walking into a store in downtown Vermont, as a tourist, if I’m spending $100, a common courtesy would be to provide (me) with a bag.”

“Banning bags would certainly force consumers to quickly rethink their shopping habits. However, we’re a state that hosts millions of tourists each year, and we need to take that into consideration,” Sigrist said.

Consumers, rather than retailers and grocers, should bear the responsibility of altering their shopping behavior, and legislators should concentrate on educating them instead of imposing mandates on businesses, Sigrist said.

Another fee, which businesses would have to collect and send to the state each month, Sigrist said, “is another line item retailers would need to manage.”

“It doesn’t seem like it’s that demanding, but it is,” she said. “It’s a lot of administrative work to manage each line item.”

At Beaudry’s Store in Huntington, customers can choose either plastic and paper bags, said Pat O’Brien, brother of the owner, but the store purchases only paper ones. The plastic bags come from customers who give their used bags to the store, he said.

“It’s Beaudry’s. It’s a different world out here,” he said.

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  • rosemarie jackowski

    This means we will have to buy plastic bags to line the garbage can, pick up after the dog, and the thousands of other things that require a plastic bag.

    The bags have gotten thinner recently. So now 2 bags are needed when one used to work. This is a bit like the low flow toilet idea. Now you have to flush twice.

    Please protect us from the politicians and bureaucrats.

    • Merry Shernock

      People who live in municipalities where bags are already banned report that enough bags come into their home,e.g., bread bags, produce bags, that collecting them for secondary use is not a problem at all.

      • Nicole Boar

        Put breads and produce in paper bags and re-use them, or start a compost pile for stuff that normally would go into garbage bags. Feed the land and save the animals.

  • Clyde Cook

    Buy online, save all those little grabs into your wallet by the overlords in Montpelier. Hey, there’s an unintended consequence that as usual, probably never crosses the legislators minds. And while one can sympathize with the sentiments of the Rep from Putney, I would rather they focus their time on doing some real work on behalf of the parents of those children by creating a better economy so they may have a decent job, lower taxes, etc.,etc. Please focus on getting something done that maybe takes some heavy lifting, not these lightweight issues. No pun intended

  • Don Dixon

    Well, here’s a thought…how about instead of saving us from ourselves (and tossing yet another burden on our small businesses), how about devoting some time to making our state affordable so maybe we (and our millennial children) won’t be priced out of living here? Just a thought.

  • Matthew Choate

    I just came back from Hawaii which has a total ban, and California which imposes a per bag fee if you want them. In neither case was it a big deal. Bring a reusable bag and problem solved. Garbage bags etc.were not included, but the people.I asked about this said it was a pain at first but now that everyone is used to it, not wasting all the bags made a lot of sense.

  • Steve Allen

    At our local grocery store a large number of customers already bring their own bags. We reuse the plastic bags we get here at home. I don’t even remember the last time i saw a plastic bag adrift in the wind. To our legislators: please focus on more important issues.

  • Given that these plastic bags not only clog our landfills, but make their way into our oceans and are responsible for the death of untold numbers of marine animals, this is a great idea who’s time has come.

    • Randy Jorgensen

      “Given that these plastic bags not only clog our landfills”

      So do styrofoam coffee cups? Are you okay with a .10 fee added to you cup of Joe?

      So do disposable diapers, are you okay with adding a .25 fee on every one to incourage the use of cloth diapers?

      Disclaimer all thee of my kids were raised with cloth have been raised with cloth diapers except for their first 3 months. My youngest at 20 months is currently using them.

      Perhaps this should be a “Neutral fee” with the revenue from it offsetting another tax. That’s pretty much the only way your Gov will sign it.

    • Nicole Boar

      A better idea is to stop making plastic grocery bags altogether. people will just pay the 10 cents and still make waste. that is NO solution. The ONLY solution is ban plastic bags for good ol hemp or canvas ones. Another reason why we should encourage hemp farming in Vermont.

  • BAN THE BAGS! Stop whining about inconvenience to the “billions” of tourists that might be inconvenienced by not having a plastic bag to put their souvenir t-shirts in. Start bringing your own reusable bags to the grocery store….it’s the right thing to do. Keep Vermont GREEN!

  • BAN THE BAGS! Stop whining about inconvenience to the “billions” of tourists that might be inconvenienced by not having a plastic bag to put their souvenir t-shirts in. Start bringing your own reusable bags to the grocery store….it’s the right thing to do. Keep Vermont GREEN!

  • So who gets the 8 cents? This isn’t about bags, It’s a tax. Just like the soda tax. Remember
    how that was pitched? We’ll just tax sugary drinks? Yep, these folks are looking out for us…

    • Moshe Braner

      They could instead simply decree that the store should charge a fee for each bag. There is no need for the state to collect any of it.

      • From H.88:(b)(1) As reimbursement for processing required under this section, a store shall retain $0.02 of each $0.10 charge collected under subsection (a) of this section for a disposable carryout bag provided to a person at the time of purchase.
        (2) The amount of each charge remaining after retention of the monies retained by the store for processing shall be paid to the Department of Taxes monthly on or before the 25th day of the month following the month in which the charge is collected.
        It’s a tax, no matter what you choose to call it.

    • Irene Stewart

      It certainly is a tax. The store gets to keep 2 cents and the state gets 8 cents of the 10 cents they will charge. A new tax! The Governor will need to get his veto pen out – he vowed no new taxes. The legislature is certainly creative. Now they are getting the taxes from Amazon purchases, and that is estimated at $5+ million a year. Ashe wrote Amazon asking that they tax purchases made by Vermonters. A back door tax you could call it, since the legislature did not vote on it this year. Now a tax on bags. My, how they do waste time, rather than dealing with the big issues – healthcare, education, welfare, Medicaid. No, easier to deal with plastic bags.

  • If the tourist is from another country then it is likely they are used to paying for bags when shopping. More than 35 countries either ban or require payment for shopping bags including 9 in Africa, almost all in Europe, about 9 in Asia.

  • James Rude

    I travel to California frequently and ever since they began to charge 10 cents per bag, the plastic bags have gotten larger and sturdier. In other words: “If you plan on charging 10 cents…give me something substantial. “

  • Bradleigh Stockwell

    Golly, the people opposed to a plastic bag solution – which has worked everywhere it’s been tried out – are complaining like seven-year-olds being told they have to clean up their rooms. And their solution is . . .? Yeah, I thought so. I love the prehistoric notion that any attempt to make things better in any way is bureaucratic meddling. When laziness pretends it’s defending democracy, well, you can’t put a price tag on that kind of entertainment. So, let’s put it in a plastic bag and toss it out the window. Someone will take care of it for us.

    • Mark Keefe

      Here in Huntington at Beaudry’s Store; there are always bags available and none are bought by Linda who runs/owns the store. They are all via reuse/recycle by customers. Apparently, our seven-year-olds don’t need an allowance to clean up their rooms. I love the prehistoric notion that bureaucratic meddling to make things better is always the high road – you can’t put a price tag on that kind of entertainment.

  • Gary Murdock

    The difference in priorities between the progressive democrat majority and the republican minority could not be clearer. Plastic bag tax’s, plastic bag bans, new payroll tax’s and family leave, minimum wage increase, etc. Meanwhile, the governor and the minority face the blue wall in their efforts to reign in the majorities crippling, runaway spending and social engineering. But hey, they are dully elected by the majority in their respective districts, so this is what the voters of this state want. That leaves 2 choices for the rest of us…endure it or leave.

  • I totally support measures that would eliminate plastic bags. In Washington, DC I have paid $1/bag at a CVS. That got my attention. Ten cents would not. Better the ban or increase the bag charge significantly.

  • Milo MacTavish

    in contrast: the Virginia supreme court ruled bag fees and bottle deposits unconstitutional. they have determined that individuals have an unalienable right to pollute, but not a responsibility to preserve.

    • Dennis Works

      Milo MacTavish: Not quite true. The Virginia Supreme Court ruled that LOCAL authorities did not have the authority from the State to require bottle deposits. However, the STATE DOES have the right to impose a bottle deposit if they wish. Also, to the best of my knowledge the Virginia Supreme Court has NOT made any ruling in regards to local authorities imposing fees for the use of disposable plastic bags.

  • John McClaughry

    At least the sponsors don’t want to levy a TAX – merely a “fee”, like the sales fee, the income fee, and the carbon pricing fee…..(sarcasm alert).

  • rosemarie jackowski

    Here’s another bad idea they have not come up with yet. Make consumers pay a deposit on the bags – refundable when the bags are returned. It would create a lot of useless jobs as ‘bag counters’. We could all spend many hours counting and sorting by size and condition.

    • Steve Allen

      Rosemarie, you forgot to add that the State will have to create another department and hire ten new employees to manage the program.

      • rosemarie jackowski

        Steve, you are right. But it won’t be 10 new employees, it will be hundreds of new employees – many with State vehicles to travel the State and supervise this.

  • Rich Lachapelle

    Every time there is a photo in the press of a committee meeting in Montpelier, you see a table adorned with single-use plastic water bottles and single-use, disposable coffee cups. How about these hypocrites start by practicing what they preach. This proposal, like so many others is all about potential revenue, the mother’s milk of demoprog politicians. If they are so concerned about discarded plastic, why do we taxpayers spend thousands of $ providing free syringes to junkies? Anyone who spends time in a public park or who walks the side of the road knows where these biohazards all end up being discarded. A lot of this annoying activity in Montpelier could be reduced by imposing a cutoff of April 15 after which the legislators will no longer be paid for coming up with their solutions in search of a problem.

  • So my business use 19,999 plastic shopping bags a year. The business next to me is real threat to the environment because they use 20,000 bags a year and they will have to pay the 10 cent fee at a cost of $2,000 a year. Luckily, this legislation will exempt me from paying the 10 cent fee on each bag. Apparently the sponsors of this legislation feel that my 19,999 are not a threat to the environment. Where do they come up with this stuff?

    • David Matthews

      It’s job creation. If your educational experience has lifted you to the proper level, you can be a Bag Counter.

  • Maya Hasegawa

    I am in favor of eliminating plastic bags or charging (but less than 10 cents, maybe 5). You can get paper grocery bags with nice handles or gift and other kinds of shops can give out nice paper bags – I have a collection of them. Here in Brattleboro you can compost cat, and I think, dog poop and have to put it in compostable bags so one has to buy them anyway. Yes, being environmental may cost us each a bit more, but isn’t it worth it?

    • Nicole Boar

      I just scoop my cat poop and throw it in the toilet. It is poop, afterall, like any other poop and it will break down. Why spend money on special bags for cat poop?

  • Ron Bierenbaum

    Ban the bags – Do Not Levy A Fee

    Banning plastic “grocery” bags has resulted in demonstrable reductions in ocean, sewer, highway and street debris. As was pointed out in previous comments as usual many other countries on all continents have taken the lead in reducing waste, polluting our environment. With regard to a total ban, tourists are not running to NH or NY to buy their souvenirs, goods, groceries during their VT trip. Retailers and retail groups have historically blamed everyone / every possible extrinsic possibility for a downturn in their business. Take accountability and stop turing to myopic solutions, because by the time something occurs you’ll either be retired or dead and won’t have to deal with it. We need to take action and do what we can to save the environment, save animals (strangulation / ingestion of bags) and reduce the use of hydrocarbons. Banning bags is easy, take reusable bags with you – laziness & whining are not strong policy statements.

  • Ron Bierenbaum

    Do Not Levy A Fee – it amounts to a tax. It causes unnecessary work for retailers and would result in state employees dedicated to collection of the bag fee (tax). A comprehensive ban would address the issue without additional costs (please see my previous post).

  • Nicole Boar

    I say get rid of plastic bags completely and charge .10 cents a bag for paper bags. Make sure every store is offering re-usable good quality canvas bags for a affordable price. I have not used plastic for years, first, the canvas holds more and won’t break through, and after I unload them, I simply put them back in my car trunk so it is always available when I need them. What could be simpler? Think of all the sea-life you would save by not having them confuse plastic bags for jellyfish, etc.

  • sandybettis

    I was behind a guy yesterday who must have used 10 plastic bags for 10 items – how ridiculous is that! I, on the other hand, can fit 10 items (or more) into my two reusable cloth bags. A little forethought can save the planet.