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Vermont Senate Considers Comprehensive Single-Use Plastics Ban

Vermont Statehouse  (file photo)
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Vermont Statehouse (file photo)

The Vermont Senate has been considering a bill that would not only ban the use of single-use plastic bags but also bar plastic straws and expanded polystyrene products.  On Friday, the chamber gave preliminary approval to a bill that some advocates say is the most comprehensive in the country.
Vermont Senate bill 113, as proposed, would “prohibit food service establishments from providing plastic carryout bags, expanded polystyrene food service products, and plastic straws to customers.”  Some legislators were concerned about the cost to retailers or customers to transition to paper or canvass. There was even debate about the different types of plastic bags.

Windham District Democrat Senator Becca Balint noted that she is the only one in the chamber that lives in a community that has already banned single-use plastics with paper bags phased in as an alternative.  “I just wanted to speak for a moment about what a seamless transition it was and at no store was this phase-in of using paper in lieu of plastic a big deal.”

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group Executive Director Paul Burns says it’s the most comprehensive bill addressing single-use plastic pollution in the country.  “It really is important because it gets at the trifecta of plastic pollution: plastic bags, plastic straws and expanded polystyrene. California has already taken action to ban plastic bags and they have a state policy that plastic straws should be given out only on request. But we go one step further at addressing the expanded polystyrene food service products. And only one state has addressed those so far that’s Maryland. But the governor as far as I know has not yet signed it and that Maryland legislation does not also address bags and straws. So as one bill, as one law, this would be I think the strongest in the country.”

Part of the debate included whether there should be a small charge, perhaps 5 or 10 cents each, on paper bags. Burns supports the concept because he says single-use paper bags are also problematic.  “Maybe not as severe an environmental problem as plastic bags because they won’t last for 500 years out in the environment but it’s very important that we don’t just shift our habits away from getting a single-use plastic bag at the grocery store to getting a single-use paper bag.  We really want to encourage consumers to invest in reusable bags so that they’re not using any of these single use products and throwing them into the waste stream or even into the recycling stream after a useful life of 10 or 15 minutes.”

Vermont Retail and Grocers Association President Erin Sigrist says the paper alternative is complex and just as negative as plastic, although in a different way.  “It’s got just as large of a footprint on the environment as plastic does, just again in a different way. It takes seven truckloads of paper bags to equal the same amount of plastic bags. So we’re talking about a larger carbon footprint when it comes to transporting. There’s also a larger carbon footprint when they’re creating the paper bags. So maybe it is an alternative but you know if we’re going to simply eliminate plastic bags we need to make sure that consumers understand that there is also an impact when it comes to paper bags.”

The bill also requires the Agency of Natural Resources to create a working group to assess progress of implementation of single-use plastic bag bans.
The Vermont Senate will consider final passage of S.113 this week. If approved it will move to the House for consideration.


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