Proposed plastic bag ban chooses winners and losers

House bill is a drastic, disproportionate solution

The New Hampshire House has approved House Bill 560, a proposal to adopt an aggressive plastic bag ban.

The proposal would ban the distribution of all single-use bags. The proposal further requires all stores to sell reusable plastic bags or recycled paper bags that meet specific government requirements and requires the customer to pay for those bags, costing consumers more.

Among the most abusive requirements we’ve seen proposed, the proposal requires all businesses of 10,000 square feet or more to provide a bin for collecting all “plastic film products not banned under this subdivision,” regardless of whether the store sells any products with such packaging. But the state has no plan for recycling the waste; no one is required to take the discarded plastic for re-use. Retailers, or any business with a space that meets the criteria, could be stuck with mountains of trash they didn’t generate. If no viable after-market actually develops, those businesses are taking back plastic for which they have no outlet.

Rubbing salt in the wound, this proposal does nothing to addresses the vast amounts of waste generated by packaging that comes along with products purchased via online shopping. New Hampshire stores already face a competitive disadvantage relative to online-only sellers, now some in the Legislature want to require New Hampshire locations to collect and recycle the waste that comes from items shipped to homes in New Hampshire by online competitors.

Ironically, proponents apparently don’t think all single-use plastic bags are bad, exempting stores that have under 1,000 square feet of retail space. This doesn’t necessarily mean “small business,” as some chains have less than 1,000 square feet while some single-location New Hampshire businesses are larger in size. Thus, the Legislature would discriminate based upon the size of the physical store, not size of the business from a revenue or ownership perspective.

Reducing waste and litter is a universally important goal, and retailers are doing their part. Some retailers voluntarily take everything from plastic wrap to electronics and most ask the customer if they need a bag. Consumers themselves are savvy enough to know when a bag is needed. Also, may retailers provide recycling bins for plastic and paper bags right at the entrance.

HB 560 is drastic solution that is disproportionate to that fact that plastic bags make up a minute portion of the waste stream and ignores the reality that alternative products are worse.

For instance, in California, one year after a statewide bag ban and tax were implemented, Ocean Conservancy data found a negligible 0.2 percent decrease in plastic retail bag litter as a percentage of overall litter across the state. And it’s been demonstrated that the overall life cycle of the plastic bag has far less environmental impact than other bags.

Without a discussion about how all plastic packaging is dealt with, the New Hampshire legislature will simply choose winners and losers, putting the burden on certain businesses without addressing the real concern. Bag bans like HB 560 are an unproven solution to the plastic waste stream problem.

Nancy C. Kyle is president and CEO of the New Hampshire Retail Association.

Categories: Opinion