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03 • 13 • 2019

Let’s Prohibit Bad Bag Law from Passing in Connecticut!

The Connecticut Chapter worked with our Northeast Regional Manager to oppose a bad single-use plastic bag tax that was proposed by the State's Governor.

Connecticut's General Assembly had no fewer than TWENTY-ONE bills before them this session looking at regulating single-use checkout bags. This is a good problem to have, from the Surfrider Foundation's perspective, and is the result in no small part of the hard work of our Connecticut Chapter volunteers and other local environmentalists, taking strong local action to regulate this needless pollution.

Unfortunately, CT Governor Lamont championed a 10-cent fee on plastic bags while failing to address paper in his proposed suite of “sin” fees aimed at filling the State's budget deficits and curbing consumer behavior (Bill No. 877, Section 60). The Governor's bill also exempted plastic bags over 4mils thick and so-called “compostable” bags from regulation.

We do not support including compostable plastic bags in the list of allowable bag types. Compostable plastic bags only consistently degrade under carefully controlled conditions, which are often not present in landfills or in the natural environment. When littered in the marine environment, these bag pose immediate threat to marine species as they can entangle or suffocate these beings, and also mimic common food sources and are often ingested, causing significant disruption to their systems, often leading to death. Compostable plastics additionally degrade in similar fashion as traditional plastic, by photodegrading and breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. These bags thus carry the same imminent risk of harm to wildlife and ecology as non-compostable plastic bags, particularly in our waterways and ocean.

Meanwhile, the Environment Committee advanced Raised bill 1003, which in similar fashion to the Governor's bill 877, fails to address single-use paper bags. Additionally, HB5019 was advanced, which is a straight tax bill that would levy a five-cent tax on paper and plastic bags, allowing the money collected to be used by government rather than be retained by the retailer. None of these would create the good policy we would like to see enacted in the State.

Data from across the world demonstrates the efficacy of a fee on paper bags being a critical component of good plastic bag ban policy, as without the fee shoppers are incentivized to use paper bags rather than reusable ones, which is a headache for the environment and for retailers. This is because paper bags cost more than thin film plastic bags, are heavier to lift, and take up much more storage space. While paper is safer for the marine environment than plastic, paper bags also come with their own negative environmental footprint. With a pass-thru charge, retailers retain the cost of the bag to recuperate the cost of purchasing it, and that fee is then charged to the customer in the same way as all other goods at point of sale, in a transparent way itemized on the sale receipt. You need a breath mint on your way out? You will pay for that. You need a bag to carry your stuff? You can bring one for free or buy one. All the pass-thru charge changes is when customers pay for the bag, the transaction is transparent. For places without a bag fee, the cost of bags is already built into the cost of goods, whereas in places with bag fees, the customer has a choice to refuse the fee and the bag, or to pay for it as any other good at the store.

Shifting consumer behavior away from single-use and toward reuse is at the heart of bag legislation, as is working toward our global goal of source reduction of low grade plastics. We want to stop the production of these items all together, and laws regulating single-use plastics are critical toward that end and the healthy ocean and coastal ecosystems we need to sustain life on the planet.

There has been great movement at the town level across Connecticut the last few years, with the CT Chapter helping score bag ban wins in Westport, Greenwich, Stamford and Norwalk thus far. While some CT towns are hesitant to pass total bans on thin film plastic bags, many are advancing ordinances that ban all plastic bags under 12ml, and since 12ml bags are not (yet) available on the market this gets the towns to a point of a local bag ban, for now. The CT Chapter is cautiously monitoring that strategy at the local level to help ensure we do not reach a critical tipping point that will monetize a new market for plastic bags to be manufactured to the 12ml specification, contravening the intents of the legislation in the same way we have witnessed bags being made to meet 2.25, 3 and 4ml specifications. Additionally, we understand that global problems require grassroots solutions and yet what works at the town level does not and can not always work at the state level. Working at the State level with the CTFA to help the State's grocers comply with any new laws while helping usher forth the consumer paradigm shift is key, and another reason why the Surfrider CT chapter has been adamant about not pushing for 12ml at the state level in CT.

The public hearing for Raised Bill 1003 and House Bill 5019 was held on Monday, March 11, 2019, and our CT chapter chair stuck out the more than 12-hour long hearing to offer our testimony to support these measures ONLY with specific amendments to address paper bags, remove the 12ml loophole, and disallow plastic film bags of any thickness specification from being given out for free (read more about that campaign here).

The hearing for 877 was held on Friday, March 15, 2019.

Prior to the hearing, we urged persons interested in submitting testimony electronically to the committee to email a PDF to the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee by emailing: fintestimony@cga.ct.gov.

Important points we asked to include in testimony:

-State your name, address & affiliation

-Thank the committee for considering your testimony

-Tell the committee that you DO NOT support section 60 of the Governor's bill 877, as written, and ONLY would support this section insofar as ALL of these amendments are made:  

  • Modifying the fee mechanism from a tax to a pass-thru fee retained 100% by the business for all types of single-use and reusable bags sold;
  • Adding a fee on all single-use and reusable bags sold to preclude thin film plastic bags of any thickness from being given out for free and used in a single-use manner;
  • Striking allowance of compostable bags

Unfortunately, a bad version of the bill was absorbed into the state budget bill (see page 512, section 355) that would have exempted bioplastics from the regulation while failing to assess the needed fee structures and preempting local bag laws! This would have been catastrophic, and so when Citizens Campaign for the Environment CT came knocking we answered the call with many others to issue a call to action of our CT members and supporters to amend the budget bill line item concerning bags, specifically to:

-remove the exemption for bioplastic;

-allow local bag laws to remain intact; and,

-allow towns that wish to enact good bag policy to assess fees on reusable plastic film bags and paper bags after coming into compliance with the state law.

Fortunately, this amendment (LCO 10618) was adopted by both chambers and subsequently signed by Governor Lamont, replacing section 355 in the budget bill (HB7424). While the bag law inherent in the budget is still subpar as it does not mandate the required fees for good policy, it is a LOT better than the initially proposed law - meaning when we come back to correct the state law in a future session, we will have less of a hill to climb to course-correct!

Thanks to all who helped with this effort!

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Not sold on why plastic bags are bad or why we focus on regulating them? Check out these resources for more info:

Rise Above Plastics Program

Beachapedia page on plastic bags

Plastic Pollution