New England

Vermont Senate Panel Weighs Plastic Bag, Straw Ban

The Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee expects to vote by the end of the week on whether to advance the bill

As more and more communities in New England and across the country debate bans on single-use plastic bags, lawmakers in Vermont are considering nixing them state-wide.

A key panel of the Vermont Senate took testimony Wednesday on a proposal that could change the way people shop or get take-out meals across Vermont.

“Single-use plastic bags are evil,” said Sage Lalor, a high school senior at Manchester’s Burr and Burton Academy, who testified before the Vermont Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy.

The bill would ban single-use plastic carryout bags, drinking straws, coffee stirrers, and polystyrene foam food containers starting in July 2020. It would also create a special committee to study plastic bag bans and make recommendations to ensure goals are met.

The proposal aims to promote durable reusable bags and reduce what ends up in landfills or the environment.

The Chittenden Solid Waste District said its sorting-center machinery is often clogged with improperly-recycled bags.

“As you can imagine, that’s dangerous,” Jen Holliday of CSWD told the senators on the committee.

Holliday urged the senators to advance the proposal.

“Other states look to our models when they’re looking at legislation, so in that respect, I think it would be great for Vermont to move forward,” she told the committee.

The proposal for state-wide rules follows a local ban already in place in Brattleboro, and other pushes in several individual Vermont communities.

“Plastic bags are very harmful to the environment because they are so plentiful and they are so light, so they are very easily littered,” Evelyn Seidner, a Burr and Burton junior, testified Wednesday.

Industry groups are pushing back.

A manufacturer of foam egg cartons testified Wednesday that some alternatives to his products, such as heavier plastic containers, are actually worse for the planet in terms of how much material and energy are used in the manufacturing.

A lobbyist for New England movie theaters suggested in testimony that a ban could be hard on consumers, saying that many movie-goers would likely prefer a lid and straw for their soda, to reduce spills in a dark and crowded theater.

“Every place that’s called it a success deems it a success because they implemented a ban,” Phil Rozenski of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which represents plastic retail bag manufacturers, said of bag bans elsewhere around the country. “There’s a lot of unintended consequences, or because of a lack of terminology, the marks were missed.”

The senate panel acknowledged the issue is complicated, so its members will consider certain exemptions—like allowing straws by request.

Committee chair Sen. Christopher Bray, D-Addison County, said his group plans to continue its discussions Thursday, with the expectation of a vote by the end of the week on whether to advance the bill.

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