Connecticut instituted a 10-cent plastic bag tax in July. Soon after, many shoppers started paying 10 cents for every paper shopping bag.
“The state's plastic bag fee went into effect in August,” said Jennifer Brogan, spokeswoman for Stop & Shop. “We actually gave customers one month of free paper bags — then implemented the paper bag fee following the Labor Day holiday in September.”
Paper bags are not included as part of the state’s mandated 10-cent bag fee. In a guidance issued by the state’s Department of Revenue Services, paper bags are first on a list of what a “single-use checkout bag does not include.”
So why are retailers charging shoppers 10 cents for paper?
Cost is a big part of it. Towns had been implementing bans on plastic shopping bags for years. Westport, for example, banned single-use plastic shopping bags a decade before the state enacted its 10-cent fee.
“Those bags are about a penny a piece,” said Wayne Pesce, president of the Connecticut Food Association, which represents retail groceries and grocery suppliers. “A paper bag is about 8 to 10 cents, depending on your supply chain.”
“We just couldn’t incur the cost of shifting people to paper,” he said.
When Connecticut lawmakers were negotiating a plastic bag fee, retailers supported the initiative, though Pesce said his organization had proposed a fee for all single-use shopping bags — paper and plastic.
“The idea is not to shift folks from plastic to paper, that’s a lose-lose,” Pesce said. “It’s about changing consumer behavior.”
Brogan said the goal was to have a positive environmental impact.
“Stop & Shop began charging 10 cents on paper bags in the state of Connecticut in September in an effort to encourage customers to transition to reusable bags, which is the most sustainable choice for the environment,” she said. “We also made a commitment to donate 5 cents of that 10-cent fee for every paper bag purchased to Save the Sound to protect the state's waterways.”
The 10 cents retailers are now charging customers for paper bags, and the state-mandated 10-cent fee for the use of plastic — in towns where plastic bags are still allowed — are both about encouraging the use of reusable bags, according to Pesce.
“Nobody wore their seat belt until there was a fine,” he said.
The state has pocketed $1.19 million from that 10-cent fee so far in the present fiscal year, according to data from the governor’s office, a sharp drop from the anticipated $27 million it expected to garner.
That revenue expectation was based on the 600 to 750 million single-use plastic bags in Connecticut, which Pesce called a “guesstimate.”
He now estimates an 80-percent reduction in the use of plastic bags statewide, which was the point, Pesce said, of both the state’s fee on plastic and retailers’ paper bag fee.
“We wanted to see the fee on both so that we would get that 80-percent reduction,” Pesce said. “There has been a significant shift in consumer behavior.”
And Pesce argues that neither is, in fact, a tax.
“People are throwing this in with the other things that are happening around them, whether its tolls or other taxes,” he said. “It’s not a tax if you bring your own bags. Bring your own bags and its a non-issue.”