See where your town stands on a plastic bag ban
The fate of single-use plastic bags is a hot topic for this year’s legislative session — should they be banned? Should they be taxed? How would a ban affect businesses?
Legislators need look no further for guidance than the recent wave of Connecticut towns latching onto the growing national trend of banning the product. While it’s unclear if state lawmakers will successfully pass a ban after years of failed efforts, local eco-friendly initiatives don’t show any sign of slowing down.
Westport led the way for the country’s eastern region over 10 years ago, when it became the first municipality east of the Mississippi River to adopt an ordinance banning single-use plastic bags, aimed primarily at supermarkets and shops.
While Westport used to stand alone as the only Connecticut town to have a ban, a push in recent years by environmental advocates concerned about pollution and threats to wildlife has resulted in others following suit.
So far, 10 of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities have passed a single-use plastic bag ban: Hamden, Mansfield, Middletown, New Canaan, New Britain, Norwalk, Stamford, Weston, Greenwich and Westport. Of those, a ban has taken effect in Westport, Weston and Greenwich. Weston’s ban includes a 10-cent charge for recyclable paper or reusable bags provided to customers.
Norwalk’s ban is scheduled to begin this summer, while Stamford’s is slated to start in May. Bans in Hamden, Mansfield, New Britain and New Canaan should all be in effect by late August or early September.
Middletown’s ban, which passed on April 1, will go into effect in mid-October, according to Public Works Recycling Coordinator Kim O’Rourke. Under the ordinance, Middletown retail establishments can offer alternative paper bags for 10 cents each.
About 20 towns — Branford, Darien, Fairfield, East Hampton and Guilford, to name a few — have proposals in the works, or are in early talks on bans. And New Haven is considering a ban for the third time in nearly as many decades. The city had a plastic bag ban from 1991 until 1995, when it was deemed burdensome on retailers and rescinded. Another proposal was shot down in 2007.
Some municipalities have taken their ordinances a step further by banning additional plastic products. Hamden’s ban on businesses providing plastic bags at checkout, for example, was accompanied by a ban on restaurants offering single-use plastic straws.
A proposal in Stonington would also ban single-use plastic bags and straws, but allow straws given to those who specifically request it. A public town meeting on the topic is scheduled for April 11.
Does your town have a plastic bag ban?
Meanwhile, Westport’s Representative Town Meeting members have proposed a new ordinance banning single-use plastic straws, food containers, stirrers and cups and replaced with disposable options. A vote is scheduled for April 24.
Single-use plastic bags could be a thing of the past statewide by January 2020.
A bill recently passed by the Environment Committee in Hartford proposes prohibiting stores in the state from giving customers plastic bags, and requires recyclable paper bags to be provided instead. There would be no fee to obtain a paper bag, and towns would be allowed to have stricter regulations if they wish.
And it wouldn’t end there. In addition to tackling plastic bags, the committee advanced legislation in recent weeks to restrict styrofoam take-out containers and plastic straws at restaurants.
The General Assembly must approve the policies before they can take effect.
This isn’t the first time Connecticut has tried to restrict plastic bag use. A bill co-sponsored by then-state Rep. Kim Fawcett, D-Fairfield, in 2009 would have put a “5-cent fee on plastic shopping bags provided by retail stores,” but the proposal failed. Efforts to ban the bags resurfaced in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017, but with no luck.
In 2016, California became the first to impose a statewide ban on single-use plastics in grocery, retail and convenience stores, among others. Washington state seems poised to follow, with its senate passing a bill that would ban stores from giving out single-use bags in 2020; it now heads to the house for approval. Just last week, New York’s Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Democratic lawmakers too reached an agreement that would ban single-use plastic bags statewide beginning next March.
Hawaii has a de facto ban in place, because “all of its most populous counties prohibit non-biodegradable plastic bags at checkout,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Meanwhile, Washington, D.C., opted for a 5-cent tax for plastic bags in 2010 instead of banning it altogether, in an effort to curb pollution and encourage people to bring reusable bags, which seems to be working.
Explore the map to see where your town stands on the road to banning plastic bags.
Includes reporting by Emilie Munson and Sophie Vaughan; firstname.lastname@example.org