From Pat Sesto, Greenwich Director of Environmental Affairs
Greenwich’s 2018 ban on plastic bags appears to have been a catalyst for action by other communities and now the State.
Since the adoption of the bag ordinance in Greenwich last year, 13 municipalities have adopted restrictions/bans.
The State of Connecticut has followed suit with legislation for a phased ban approved this week.
Legislation regarding plastic bags passed in Hartford on Tuesday will not affect Greenwich’s 2018 ordinance.
The state legislation, which will become law when signed by Governor Lamont, requires retailers to charge a 10¢ fee on all single-use plastic bags until July 1, 2021, when the bags will be banned.
Importantly for communities who have or who are contemplating a bag ordinance, the legislation allows municipalities to adopt their own ordinance that is stricter than the state’s.
The Greenwich ordinance is already stricter in that point-of-sale plastic bags are banned.
The state legislation could have been a step backwards without the provision for towns to have their own ordinances.
The state allows plastic bags to be used, in Towns without bans, for two more years with a 10¢ tax on each bag and then moves to full elimination of plastic bags by 2021, where Greenwich already is now.
Greenwich’s ban also simplifies purchases for retailers. With the state law, retailers across the state now have to charge for bags and turn the fees into the state, in the same fashion as collecting taxes.
The fee also has to been shown on the register receipt. Consumers and businesses in Greenwich will be spared this additional accounting step.
For businesses who received temporary or permanent waivers of the Greenwich ordinance, they will need to charge for their plastic bags starting August 1, 2019.
The state legislation does go a step further than Greenwich by explicitly authorizing local ordinances to include a fee for paper bags. Greenwich did not include this provision. Banning plastic is only on part of the waste-reduction equation. Rightfully so, some complain a plastic ban only moves people to use paper instead. Given paper has a bigger carbon footprint for production and transportation, paper bags have their own problems. Jeanne Behr Getz of BYOGreenwich noted her organization, who spearheaded the adoption of Greenwich’s ordinance, originally included a fee for paper bags. “Even a small fee,” said Behr Getz, “is enough to get people thinking and change habits and offset increased bag costs for businesses. Waste management is a greater cost center for municipalities, ultimately, we need to stop disposable waste before it starts.”
It was the RTM who decided to eliminate the paper bag fee.
Paper bags are up to ten times the cost of plastic. While local merchants could charge for bags if they wished to, it generally doesn’t happen. Customers who bring their own bags help alleviate the financial burden of plastic bag bans on retailers.
Another distinction between the state and Greenwich’s bag ban is who is affected. The state ban affects only retailers, while plastic bags are banned for all businesses in Greenwich. In addition to retailers, this means plastic bags cannot be used to give away products, such as at the dentist or trade material.
The legislation was hailed as a success by many environmental groups, when it passed as part of the state budget. The plastic bag fee is expected to generate between $28-30 million per year for the state until the ban goes into full effect in 2021.