By Mike Polhamus, VTDiggger
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.