Connecticut

Phaseout to Zero Plastic Checkout Bags, CT!

Loss | June 05 2019

Plastic Pollution

The Connecticut Chapter worked with our Northeast Regional Manager, fellow members of Connecticut's environmental community, lawmakers and the Connecticut Food Association to champion the strongest proposed state bill in the US to reduce needless pollution from single-use bags.

Connecticut's General Assembly had no fewer than TWENTY-ONE bills before them this session looking at regulating single-use checkout bags. One of the bills submitted to the Environment Committee, Proposed House Bill 6011, had mechanisms that were crafted by Surfrider to get at the best working policy to allow grocery stores to phaseout plastic checkout bags of all thickness specifications and properly incentivize customers choosing to purchase or bring their own reusable bags by adding a pass-thru charge on paper bags. We worked with the Connecticut Food Association, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, League of Conservation Voters CT and others to urge the Environment Committee Chairs to fully adopt the language we submitted into HB 6011.

Unfortunately, after CT Governor Lamont proposed 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, the Environment Committee advanced SB1003, which similar to the Governor's budget proposal, fails to address single-use paper bags (read more about our campaign to prevent the Governor's bill 877, section 60 from passing here). Additionally, HB5019 was advanced, which is a 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. 

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.

Our bill would not have impacted any CT towns with existing bag regulations that are stronger than the state bill, until such time as the phaseout occurs, which as written is set for 2 years' time or when an 80% reduction of single-use plastic bag threshold is met, whichever happens first. The bill would have taken effect 6 months after passage, and would have required all 169 CT towns without existing bag regs and those with weaker local laws to institute a 15-cent fee on paper, recycled, and 3ml or greater plastic bags while banning all thin film bags under 3ml. Remember that after 2 years’ time or when the 80% reduction threshold is met, whichever happens first, that ALL film plastic bags of any thickness would have been banned from all 169 CT towns, with the fee on paper and reusables jumping to 25-cents at that time to address concerns that the public may "normalize" to the fee and further incentivize reusable bags over paper. 

The public hearing for SB1003 and HB5019 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.

Unfortunately, the 3/25/19 vote was 25 to 4 to send the bill as is favorably out of Committee. We regrouped with our allies who understand that shifting the pollution problem from single-use plastic to paper is not the answer, and in fact creates bad policy that will add significant burden to our businesses while doing nothing to shift the consumer paradigm away from single-use and toward sustainable reuse, and asked our CT supporters to email State Senator Christine Cohen & Senate Democratic leadership asking them to amend SB1003 on the floor to:

  • Remove the 10,000sq square foot exemption so the law would apply to all retailers; and,
  • Remove the 12ml loophole to mitigate opportunity for such a thick bag to be manufactured and given out for free; and,
  • Put a charge on all paper and reusable bags at point of sale to make this bill worth the paper it'll be written on.

Email addresses: Looney@senatedems.ct.gov; Christine.Cohen@senatedems.ct.gov; Bob.Duff@cga.ct.gov; will.haskell@cga.ct.gov; ct@surfrider.org

Unfortunately, a subpar bag ban was absorbed into the state budget bill and passed this year, creating bad policy (but not as bad as it could have been! Check out the full story on that front, here).

In the meantime, you can email our fearless chapter chair, Jack Egan, to get on board.

Thank you for your help!

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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

Rise Above Plastics is designed to eliminate the impacts of plastics in the marine environment by raising awareness about the dangers of plastic pollution and by advocating for a reduction of single-use plastics and the recycling of all plastics.

Learn More

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