Lawmaker will try again to charge for plastic bags

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A BYU Store customer receives her purchase in a plastic bag. Stores in Utah do not currently charge for plastic bags, but the new bill would charge Utah residents for each paper or plastic bag used at retail stores. (Savannah Hopkinson)

New legislation would charge Utah residents for every paper or plastic shopping bag they use at retail stores if it passes.

Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City, was inspired to sponsor legislation in Utah after seeing other states’ success at cutting down on waste by charging for use of bags.

“We often don’t realize the impacts of paper and plastic on the environment,” said Iwamoto. “Contrary to what many people believe, plastic bags can’t be recycled with other things, and even though paper is recyclable it still causes immense harm to the environment.”

Utah residents throw away an average of 940 million plastic shopping bags alone, according to research Iwamoto has collected. Only one to three percent of plastic bags are recycled worldwide, and it can take up to 1,000 years for a bag to fully decompose.

This isn’t the first time Iwamoto has tried to change Utah’s retail bag policies. Iwamoto sponsored similar legislation, SB244. The bill never got a committee hearing.

Iwamoto said she believes that her bill, which would charge ten cents per paper or plastic bag used at retail stores, will provide individuals with an incentive to use re-usable totes and bags.

Iwamato said the legislation would benefit not only the environment, but also the retailers, recyclers, and landfills that would receive the fees collected from consumers who still chose to use paper or plastic bags.

For each bag used five cents would go to the retailer and the other five cents to the state Department of Environmental Quality, which distributes the funds to labs and recycling plants.

For BYU students, the new bill may provide incentive to use sustainable bags when purchasing groceries, textbooks, or other items.

For Mayra Payne, a junior at BYU who regularly uses sustainable cloth shopping bags, the new bill would be a small step in the right direction.

“I think it’s all about the small impacts,” Payne said. “Every bag a student saves adds up, and eventually the small impacts from large amounts of people is what will make a difference.”

For other students like Ryan Hall, a senior at BYU, the legislation would serve as a reminder to change behavior. Though Hall has always used plastic bags provided by stores, the extra ten cents per bag, though small, would serve as incentive to use fewer bags or take a re-usable tote.

“I’d definitely look at the bags differently if there were a price attached,” said Hall.

Whether individuals chose to begin using sustainable bag alternatives or not, Iwamoto hopes the bill will serve as a reminder of individuals’ impacts on the environment.

As Iwamoto said, “this initiative is about education and behavior change.”

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