Plastic bags, straws, bottles, and other waste present a significant threat to the ecosystems in the Long Island Sound and across Connecticut. Turtles can mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, and when they ingest them, the bags can lodge in their stomachs. Plastic can also cause intestinal blockages in whales and dolphins.
The United Nations has estimated that more than 8 million tons of plasticwind up in our oceans each year. Connecticut uses more than 400 million plastic bags each year. Many of these end up in the Connecticut River and eventually in our oceans.
In Connecticut, Greenwich and Westport have banned single-use plastic bags to help turn the tide against this wave of pollution. Towns including Guilford, Mansfield, Norwich, Stamford, and Waterford are also considering similar legislation, and the town of Stonington is considering bans on both bags and straws.
Nationally, some large retailers and restaurant companies have recently announced initiatives to curb plastic consumption. Starbucks and McDonalds have both announced they will be phasing out plastic straws, while Krogers has announced it will stop providing single-use plastic bags.
At the state level, plastic bag bans and fees have been proposed in the Connecticut General Assembly, but none have made it to the Governor's desk. Some lawmakers have also proposed fixes to strengthen our recycling program, also known as the "Bottle Bill." The last attempt to modernize our recycling program died in the House in 2018.
A PLASTIC PROBLEM
Plastic waste has invaded landfills, waterways, Long Island Sound, and critical ecosystems across Connecticut.
In 2019, the Connecticut General Assembly introduced a slew of new proposals to combat plastic pollution:
Plastic Bag Ban (SB 1003): The Environment Committee passed a ban on plastic bags, and it is now waiting to be brought for a vote in the Senate. However, this bill is complicated by a competing provision in the Democrats' Budget which would impose a 10-cent fee on both plastic and paper bags. CTLCV strongly opposes an open-ended fee, as we want to see plastic bags phased out and eliminated entirely. Both SB 1003 and the Budget Bill also contain exemptions for so-called "compostable bags," which only break down in anaerobic digesters and are NOT actually any environmentally friendlier than other single-use plastics. In fact, a recent study showed so-called biodegradable bags were still usable and intact three years after being discarded. CTLCV is working closely with advocates and lawmakers in the hopes of passing the strongest possible version of the Plastic Bag Ban this year.
Bottle Bill (HB 7294): Connecticut has a real chance at expanding and fixing our landmark recycling program this year. The Bottle Bill would increase the types of containers accepted to include sports drinks, juices, and more. It would also raise the handling fee so existing redemption centers can keep their doors open while encouraging new centers to set up shop. Finally, the redemption value would increase from 5-cents to 10-cents to encourage greater participation. Now that China no longer accepts our waste, Connecticut's towns are struggling with the cost of recycling glass and plastics. The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities has voiced their support for the Bottle Bill, and the proposal has passed both the Environment and Finance Committees. It is now awaiting a vote in the full House.
Plastic Straws (HB 5385): The Environment Committee passed a bill that would prevent sit-down restaurants from automatically providing single-use plastic straws to customers. Customers would still be able to request a straw. The bill does nothing to limit drive-thrus or counter-service restaurants from offering straws, however, and these establishments are the biggest contributors to the discarded straws littering our streets, parks, trails, and waterways.
Polystyrene Containers (HB 5384): This is the first of two polystyrene bans that passed out of the Environment Committee. It would broadly limit the use of polystyrene cups, coolers, and other containers in Connecticut. It awaits action in the House.
Polystyrene Trays (SB 229): The second bill on polystyrene to pass out of the Environment Committee would specifically ban polystyrene trays from being used in public schools. This bill awaits action in the Senate.