Washington — Democratic gains in state governments in November's elections are leading to more bills banning or taxing plastic bags in 2019, with New York's legislature the most prominent at the moment, according to the head of the bag industry's trade association.
"There's no doubt that there's an increase in activity at the state level from past years," said Matt Seaholm, executive director of the Washington-based American Progressive Bag Alliance. "A lot of that has to do with the election results in some of these states."
Seaholm spoke in a recent interview on the political prospects for the plastic bag industry in the year ahead, and he highlighted Democratic Party gains in some prominent state chambers and Democrats gaining seven governors' mansions.
"There's no doubt that a number of the state legislatures, and I would say governors' offices, the flips that did happen and also the movements within the majority in some of these houses, have moved the political spectrum decidedly to the left," impacting plastics packaging legislation, he said.
The most prominent early in the year looks to be New York, Seaholm said, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo has put a plastic bag ban, a fee on paper bags and bottle bill expansion on a faster track by including it in his mid-January budget proposal.
"I think it's safe to say that New York probably went to No. 1 in the short term," Seaholm said.
Other states could emerge as flash points depending on what happens in a particular state capital, with legislators most active in the New England states, New Jersey, Washington and Oregon, Seaholm said.
"The possibility of passage has gone up in a number of states," Seaholm said.
Increasingly, he said, state legislation includes plastic bag taxes or bans as part of broad bills aimed at single-use plastic packaging. Those bills typically include expanded polystyrene foam and plastic cutlery.
"You're seeing it on so much more than bags at this point," Seaholm said. "Whereas there were a few bag bills here and there, now you're seeing so much more effort on cutlery and straws. There are bills in most states on straws. Foam is another target point."
New Jersey's Legislature is one example. State lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban plastic bags and put fees on paper bags, along with banning plastic straws and expanded polystyrene foam containers in food service.
Last year, the state's Democratic governor, Phil Murphy, vetoed a 5-cent fee on plastics bags because he said he wanted a stronger law. According to local press reports, last year 19 cities and towns in New Jersey passed local ordinances regulate plastic bags.
Seaholm last year called New Jersey the top political priority for APBA.