Plastic bag tax fee

New Hampshire legislators are considering a bill that would phase out single-use plastic bags as well as non-recyclable paper bags, but only at larger stores.

Having passed a vote in the state House of Representatives, House Bill 560 moved on for review by New Hampshire's Senate Commerce Committee in early April. HB 560 would give retail shops six months before requiring them to start charging customers a dime or more for single-use plastic bags for an initial period of four months. They would then only be allowed to offer reusable fabric or recycled paper bags of specific dimensions and quality for 10 cents or more.

Proponents cite the costs of plastics pollution to human and environmental health and the rising costs and difficulties associated with disposing of plastics waste as justification for the ban. Critics says it pushes the costs on to consumers and puts a burden on businesses.

But Cathy Corkery, director of the New Hampshire Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the ban will save consumers, businesses and municipalities money

“What this bill aims at is removing a source of trash so that we, as taxpayers, don’t have to pay for its consequences,” Corkery told SentinalSource.com.

The New Hampshire Retail Association (NHRA) says retailers are already addressing the issue and that it should be left in the hands of private-sector businesses and consumers to resolve.

"Generally, retailers are doing the right thing. We believe a blanket ban is counterproductive in that it would increase the use of new plastic bags rather than reuse of existing bags," NHRA president and CEO Nancy Kyle said. "Reducing waste and litter is a universally important goal and retailers are doing their part. Some retailers voluntarily take everything from plastic wrap to electronics, and most ask the customer if they need a bag. Consumers themselves are savvy enough to know when a bag is needed. Also, many retailers provide recycling bins for plastic and paper bags right at the entrance."

HB 560 applies only to New Hampshire retail shops with single locations of more than 1,000 square feet. The bill specifically targets single-use plastic bags used to carry goods out of shops, not plastic bags used to package raw meat, those used for bulk produce or placed over clothing on hangers. In addition, the bill requires businesses with more than 10,000 square feet of retail space in a single location to provide a plastics waste collection bin.

"Among the most abusive requirements we've seen proposed, the proposal requires all businesses of 10,000 square feet or more to provide a bin for collecting all 'plastic film products not banned [under] this subdivision' regardless of whether the store sells any products with such packaging," Kyle added. "But the state has no plan for recycling the waste; no one is required to take the discarded plastic for reuse. Retailers, or any business with a space that meets the criteria could be stuck with mountains of trash they didn't generate. If no viable after-market actually develops, those businesses are taking back plastic for which they have no outlet."

In addition, HB 560 effectively discriminates simply based on the size of a retail outlet rather than the size of the entire business based on revenue or ownership, according to Kyle.

"Ironically, the proponents apparently don't think all single-use plastic bags are bad, exempting stores that have under 1,000 square feet of retail space," she said. “This doesn't necessarily mean 'small business', as some chains have less than 1,000 square feet while some single-location New Hampshire businesses are larger in size."

Furthermore, HB 560 doesn't address all the plastic waste used in packaging that comes with online shopping purchases, Kyle continued.

"New Hampshire stores already face a competitive disadvantage relative to online-only sellers, now some in the New Hampshire legislature want to require New Hampshire locations to collect and recycle the waste that comes from items shipped to homes in New Hampshire by online competitors," she said.

New Hampshire joins a growing roster of states considering bans on plastic bags and other plastic products, many of them doing so in the wake of local municipalities instituting bans. California banned major retailers from using plastic bags in 2016 and local jurisdictions in Hawaii have instituted bans that effectively amount to a statewide ban. In addition, New York State recently passed a plastic bag ban and Vermont and Virginia are considering similar proposals.

Similar bills were defeated in New Hampshire in the past.