"Paper or plastic?" It's a fairly innocuous question asked at checkout lines across the country. But here in Connecticut, that question may soon come with a price tag, as lawmakers consider adding a five-cent tax on all disposable shopping bags.
The "just say neither" trend is sweeping the nation, and cities including New York, Seattle and Philadelphia already charge a tax on plastic bags. Here in Connecticut, Westport became the first municipality in Connecticut to enact an outright ban in September of 2008, imposing a $150 fine on shop owners that distribute disposable bags. Wilton has long considered the ban, and the town's Board of Selectmen are due to revisit the idea within the next few months.
A similar proposal to add a nickel-per-bag tax to Connecticut shoppers' bills gained momentum in state Legislature last spring.
Those who endorse the plan say the bill would not only benefit the environment, but would also rake in upwards of $20 million to help fund environmental programs threatened by budget cuts.
Pressing budget issues are one of the reasons critics stand in opposition. Times of economic uncertainty are not times to impose new costs on consumers, they say. Furthermore, a nickel may not be incentive enough for customers to rethink their habits. Among those opponents is Governor M. Jodi Rell, who says incentives to encourage the reuse of bags are preferable to any new tax.
The bag-tax bill will died without a General Assembly vote in 2009, but with the acclaimed success of Westport's ban and the economy on the mend, legislators say they might reconsider the bill with more enthusiasm this year.
Where does Darien stand?
SELECTMEN ON PLASTIC BAG BAN:
David Campbell (R)
While I am very much in favor of making people aware of how small changes in our daily routines can have a large impact on our overall environment, I am not in favor of imposing an outright ban on paper bags. I believe the residents of Darien are intelligent, environmentally aware individuals who do their best to be considerate of the environment on a regular basis.
David Bayne (D)
I would be in favor of looking into ways for the Town to do more to promote the use of recyclable bags: to do something on a website, to encourage merchants to encourage their customers to use recycled bags, to be more proactive in educating people to not use plastic bags. But I think it's simply too intrusive to have an outright ban.
Jerry Nielsen (R)
I'm not in favor of banning plastic bags, but we all have to be conscious of the environment and we all have to be encouraged to recycle. I was on vacation at a place where you go to the dump and everything is recycled: the newspapers, the plastics—everything, all down the line; and there's someone actually there policing that. I'm not saying we go to that extreme, but we all have to be conscious of our environment and recycle when we can.
Jayme Stevenson (R)
I am not in favor of a ban on plastic bags. I am in favor of educating the community on the importance of using recyclable bags or reusing their plastic and paper bags. People are very well aware of the negative impact on our environment from plastic products ending up in our waste stream. However, I do not believe in imposing more rules and regulations that potentially create a burden either financially or from a regulatory perspective on our local merchants and government. I am an environmentalist at heart, and I strongly believe in recycling. Personally, I use my own recyclable bags whenever I got to the grocery store, and if I do ask for store bags, I reuse them at home for other things. I'm hopeful that my own practices serve as a positive role model for my kids and others.
Callie Sullivan (D)
Banning plastic bags would be a win-win for everyone in Darien. I use my Palmer's cloth bags everywhere I shop. It's not a big deal. Net bags are very small and portable as well. If we truly care about our children's future, the planet they are inheriting, and reducing the reliance the United States has on Petro chemicals; and if we care about how our town looks with plastic swirling garbage down our main street, we will take this important step and patronize the shops who give or sell cloth bags to their customers.
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