bag tax

A plastic bag high in a tree along Route 91 in Hopkinton. A new tax in Connecticut is intended to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags.

Sun file photo

HARTFORD — Connecticut retailers of all types are getting ready to charge a new 10-cent tax on single-use plastic bags, changing how many consumers will carry home groceries or a takeout meal.

Proponents of the legislation, including environmentalists and the Connecticut Food Association, hope the tax will ultimately lead to fewer single-use plastic bags littering the environment. Under the new law, the tax will be charged from Aug. 1, 2019, to June 30, 2021. After that time, retailers will be prohibited from providing or selling single-use checkout bags to customers.

There is some concern that stores may not be able to meet the anticipated dramatic demand for reusable bags once the new tax takes effect on Aug. 1. Wayne Pesce, executive director of the food association, said he expects stores will need at least an extra 30 days to amass an adequate supply.

"We could have used a little more time to prepare," said Pesce, adding that the new bag tax "is going to be a sea change" for consumers. He said retailers don't have a clear understanding of how many reusable bags they may need. Some thicker, multiuse plastic bags used by stores — which have also drawn criticism from some environmentalists — are produced in China. The tax will be applied to plastic bags with a thickness of less than four mils or four thousandths of an inch.

Pesce said many stores are also making signs to notify customers of the new tax. While about 10 Connecticut communities have local plastic bag fees or bans already in place, many consumers in the state are unfamiliar with the concept, he said.

"The state passes the law and we get to tell people," he said. "We're there. We're on the ground."

Scott Jackson, commissioner of the Department of Revenue Services, said he's been impressed by how retailers are preparing for the new tax. He remains optimistic it won't slow things down at the checkout counter for customers, so long as they're aware of the change.

"This has certainly escaped the attention of a lot of consumers," he acknowledged. "That first Saturday in August, there's a chance for some confusion among consumers who haven't been paying attention to this."

The revenue department has been trying to get the word out about the new levy. When retailers filed their June sales tax returns online, a reminder about the plastic bag tax automatically popped up. The agency's Office of Commissioner Guidance, which provides businesses and individuals with details about tax changes, plans to post information soon about executing the new plastic bag tax.

The Connecticut Food Association estimates that about 700 million single-use plastic bags are distributed each year in Connecticut. Pesce said the legislation is expected to reduce that amount by 80%; other locations that implemented such a fee saw a similar reduction after about five to eight weeks.

The tax is projected to generate $27.7 million in the current fiscal year and $26.8 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2020. The revenue will be deposited into the state's main spending account, the general fund. Some Republican lawmakers have complained that it will be yet another expense for Connecticut taxpayers to shoulder.

Plastic bags provided by stores to hold meat, seafood, loose produce or unwrapped food items, as well as newspaper bags and dry cleaning bags, are exempt from the new law. Additionally, the new law allows stores to charge customers a fee to obtain a single-use paper bag, which are more costly for retailers to provide than single-use plastic bags.

Lawmakers this year were unable to pass legislation aimed at reducing the waste stream, including bans on plastic straws, single-use polystyrene food containers and polystyrene lunch trays at schools.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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