RTM further debates bag ordinance fee

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

At a recent RTM Rules Committee Meeting, members further debated the recent proposed plastic bag ordinance in town, as well as brought up other towns and cities that have enacted a similar ban.
The Ordinance for the Management of Plastic and Paper Checkout Bags, which was proposed by BYO (Bring Your Own) Darien, phases out plastic bags of less than 12 mil thickness and requires a 10 cent charge for recycled paper bags, with the charge being retained by the retailer.
According to a recent revision proposed by the RTM, stores under 10,000 square feet would permanently not be required to charge a 10-cent fee with the purchase of a paper bag. However, if they want to, they could.
To date, California, Hawaii and New York have all banned plastic bags.
New York’s ordinance, which goes into effect March 1, 2020, allows individual counties the option of placing a 5-cent fee on paper bags, with 2 cents going to local governments and 3 cents to the state's Environmental Protection Fund.
“That fee is to be submitted to the state by the municipality. The state refunds the municipality 40%. The municipalities get back a 2-cent refund,” said RTM member Jack Davis, the RTM Finance & Budget Committee Chairman. He added that this fee qualifies as a tax.
In regard to whether or not the fee could be considered a tax, Davis said, “Since towns are not collecting the money, it’s not a tax. But the question is whether or not the 10 cents is imposing into the marketplace a will of government for which it has no business. — This is a fee. So that’s the legal question that everybody is resting on.” He added that he has spoken with Town Counsel Wayne Fox on this matter.
RTM members brought up the thought they said many people have had, which is that larger cities such as Stamford would be sued — instead of Darien — for charging a fee. Davis said this “is a foolish concept. What they’ll do is pull us all in together.”
The question was posed if any bag ban ordinance in surrounding towns that have imposed a fee have been challenged in court.
Monica McNally, RTM Public Works Committee Chairman, said no one has been charged yet because “the ordinances are just kicking in now.”
Pending state bill
Connecticut’s leaders are now considering a bill that would ban plastic bags in the state.
The bill, HB-5019, called An Act Establishing a five-cent tax on single-use plastic and paper bags, was introduced by the Environment Committee. Its purpose is to encourage consumer use of reusable bags. The last Public Hearing on this bill was March 6.
In referring to this bill, Davis said if Connecticut “does what they should do properly, which is charge a tax, [and] give some to the merchant, give some to the state, there is no reason for our ordinance.”
RTM members agreed to resume this discussion at a future Rules meeting
Darien Sport Shop doesn’t support fee
Richard Anders, general manager of the Darien Sport Shop — which is a business that’s larger than 10,000 square feet — said while he loves the green initiative of recyclable bags, he is not “comfortable” charging a fee to his customers.
He said that banning single use plastic bags is “a great thing for the town and the stores. We all want a green planet.” However, in regard to the proposed fee, he added, “Do we really need to do that? From my perspective, it doesn’t seem very friendly.”
“We prefer not to have to charge,” he said.
Anders offers many services free of charge at his business, including alterations, gift wrapping and local delivery. In light of this, he said the charge “isn’t consistent” with Darien Sport Shop’s values.
While it’s “a nominal fee, the fact that we are forcing it by charging customers for the bags makes me a little uncomfortable," he said.
“That’s my only hesitation,” Anders added.
BYO Darien
In response to Anders’ position on the 10 cent fee, Lucia Zachowski, Co-Chairmen of BYO Darien, said that data from across the country shows that without a fee, “people will not bring their reusable bag. They will just default to paper, and paper is just as bad for the environment as plastic. So, when Anders says he is for the ordinance and for all the environmental benefits of it, he is being inconsistent because without the fee, the ordinance will be handicapped.”
She added that since the first plastic bag ban in Darien was proposed 2012, based upon research by BYO Darien, approximately 30 million bags have been used in town.
“We could have stopped those 30 million bags from going into a landfill or incinerator,” Zachowski said.
A further statement, submitted from BYO Darien on April 8, said that stores who may find it inconvenient to charge for a paper bag are “perhaps underestimating the willingness of most residents to begin a movement toward a healthier planet.”
The statement also said that, “Darien residents have clearly chosen the environment over convenience and understand the need to put some muscle in the ordinance by attaching a bag charge. Also, the young people in town - the generation that would have to play 'clean-up' to our choice of convenience over environment - are enthusiastically behind these changes.”