Advocates are weighing in with closing arguments as a bill that bans single-use plastic bags makes it way to the governor's desk.
The bill passed overwhelmingly in the Statehouse. But the plastic bag industry is calling on Gov. Phil Scott to veto the measure.
The bill would put Vermont in the forefront of states trying to restrict plastic pollution. It takes aim at three forms of throwaway plastic: the thin bags handed out at grocery stores, straws, and polystyrene food containers.
The plastic bag industry argues the Vermont bag ban would do little to control litter and would result in more pollution. Matt Seaholm, executive director of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, said more energy is used to produce replacement paper or cloth bags.
“There are better approaches than banning products. And we're happy to have those discussions,” he said. “Unfortunately the legislature was more interested in just getting a feel-good piece of legislation through and that's what we have right now headed to the governor's desk.”
Seaholm said the re-useable heavy-duty plastic bags that the Vermont bill allows are made in China and take more energy to produce and ship.
“In a bill that's meant to be pro-environment, it really misses the mark when we're rewarding the countries that are the worst polluters in the world,” he said.
But Addison Senator Chris Bray – a lead sponsor who chairs the Natural Resources Committee - strongly disagreed.
“Our goal is not to send Americans to buy re-useable bags from overseas. I think that's patently inaccurate,” he said. “There are many manufacturers of re-usable bags in the United States.”
Speaking on Vermont Edition, Bray said the bill is just the first step. He said a working group established by the measure will look at other ways to prevent plastic from entering the environment.
Gov. Phil Scott has said he is leaning toward supporting the bill, but wanted to hear from the state's retailers. Erin Segrist, president of the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association, said her members know momentum is building to ban plastic bags. She said retailers prefer a statewide measure over a piecemeal approach as individual communities pass their own bag bans.
“Plastic bags have been banned in entire countries. They've been banned in other states, they're banned all over several municipalities in New England,” she said. “So we know it's coming and we don't want a patchwork of bans across the state to make it more difficult for retailers.”
The bill says retailers must charge 10 cents for paper grocery bags. Segrist said that fee makes sense as a way to discourage the use of disposal paper bags. Small paper bags – such as the kind used for note cards – are exempted from the mandatory fee.