MONTPELIER -- Vermont would require that retailers charge shoppers a 10-cent fee for disposable carryout bags in an attempt to streamline waste management and cut down on litter under a bill being debated in the Legislature, but not all businesses support the measure.
State Sen. Robert Hartwell, chairman of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, introduced the bill this session and discussed details with his committee Friday.
The fee would be imposed on paper, plastic and other single-use material bags from retail establishments but wouldn’t apply to produce bags, prescription drug bags, newspaper sleeves, dry cleaning bags and some packaged multi-bags.
Vermont is one of eight states considering a statewide fee or tax per bag, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Major cities including Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and over 100 other municipalities have enacted bans or fees for bags, according to Surfrider Foundation, a California-based ocean conservation nonprofit.
In Vermont, most of the fee would funnel into the state’s waste management fund with businesses retaining a processing fee of one cent for each dime collected.
Hartwell, a Democrat from Dorset, said reducing bags would make waste management easier and also cut down on a petroleum-based product. But he said he was also motivated by reducing the eyesore of bags floating around streets across the state.
"When you see plastic bags as litter, it’s a little different-- it’s hanging out of a tree, it’s stuck on a guardrail, it’s on somebody’s car," Hartwell said. "It has a different kind of impact."
Hartwell said that lawyers will review the penalty provision in the bill as well as any issues surrounding the inclusion of paper bags.
Liz Walsh, co-owner of a Montpelier art supply shop The Drawing Board, said she supports reducing plastic bag use but wasn’t sure a fee was the right direction, especially since customers might balk.
"We’re the ones who have to be on the front end of that," Walsh said. She also wondered what the fee would mean for services, such as custom framing, that need to be wrapped in packaging.
The Drawing Board and other local stores are part of an initiative called "Bag that Bag" that incentivizes customers to use re-usable bags by donating to a nickel to charity if they do. Walsh said the store has seen less plastic bag usage since joining the program.
Bob Sager, owner of Bob’s Camera and Video in Barre, wanted to see more details before he judged the fee.
"Vermont’s very forward thinking on recycling and what not, which is a good thing," Sager said. Sager hoped to see more information on where the funds would go and how merchants statewide would apply the fee to consumers.
Hartwell hopes the bill will pass out of his committee as early as next week.