SB192: bill to reduce plastic bag use fails in Senate committee

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Savannah Hopkinson
A bill that would have charged a fee for using plastic bags failed to pass a Senate committee.
(Photo illustration by Hopkinson, Savannah).

SB192, a bill aimed to reduce the use of plastic bags in retail shops, failed to pass Senate committee on Friday, Feb. 23.

Arguments in favor of the bill

The sponsor of the bill Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake, said the use and disposal of plastic bags has a terrible impact on the environment and the economy. This is the second time Iwamoto’s push to charge for plastic bags has been killed in the Utah Legislature. Her first bill never even got a hearing.

The bill would not have banned the use of plastic or paper bags, but put a 10 cent fee on each bag used. The goal of this statewide regulation would be to incentivize consumers to use reusable bags in place of one-time use paper or plastic bags.

Half of the bag fee would go directly to the retailer while the other half would go to the state tax commission to be distributed to private and public landfills.

Iwamoto said the greatest cost for plastic bags occurs in landfills and recycling centers. These costs are ultimately passed onto the consumers with higher charges for these services.

Iwamoto said this issue is important to constituents. She said she had received more calls  about SB192 than any other bill she sponsored this session.

Mark Hoyer, executive director of the Trans-Jordan Landfill, spoke in favor of the bill.

“The single-use plastic bag has emerged as an icon of waste,” Hoyer said.

According to Hoyer the cost of plastic bag cleanup for the biggest landfills across Utah is $410,000 a year, a cost he said gets passed to the consumer, for what is a relatively preventable source of litter.

Larry Gibbons spoke on behalf of Rocky Mountain Recycling in favor of the bill. He said although plastic bags are not accepted for recycling they still end up at the recycling plant and their clean up results in extra work and money.

Dave Davis, president of Utah Retail Merchants Association, also spoke in favor of the bill. He said it was important for retailers to have a statewide standard and he appreciated that neither paper or plastic bags were banned by the bill.

“We really want to preserve customer choice,” Davis said.

Arguments opposing the bill

George Chapman spoke against the bill. He said the 10 cent fee would primarily occur at grocery stores, making it essentially a food tax. He also pointed out that reusable bags can cause sanitation problems if someone puts produce and meat in the same bag. Overall, he said it was not the governments’ place to interfere with retailers.

“Businesses shouldn’t be told by government how to operate. That’s the bottom line,” Chapman said.

Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, questioned why this wasn’t an issue that could be dealt with on a county level. Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley, said she thought this was an important issue that needed further discussion and study.

“This conversation needs to go on and on because as a society we need to take care of these byproducts of what we use,” Mayne said.

She motioned to move to the next item on the agenda and recommended the bill be studied further during the interim. This motion passed with four in favor and three absent.

The bill will likely be brought forward again in 2019 legislative session.

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