Vermont lawmakers have adopted one of the toughest measures in the U.S. against single-use plastic packaging, banning both plastic bags and expanded polystyrene food containers, amid a flurry of activity in other states.
California legislators, for example, adopted their own ambitious bills in late May that call on state regulators to create a comprehensive plan for managing single-use plastic waste. They would set recycling requirements that rise from 20 percent in 2024 to 75 percent by 2030 for packaging to be sold in the state.
Supporters of the state efforts said they're aimed at helping cities deal with rising financial burdens of plastics recycling after China's ban on scrap imports.
A plastics industry trade group, however, is warning of unintended consequences of banning specific materials in Vermont's legislation.
In a May 29 statement, the American Chemistry Council urged Vermont Gov. Phil Scott to veto the legislation. ACC argued that replacement materials could cause more environmental damage by increasing waste, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions compared to plastic.
"A ban on single-use plastic products is not the answer," said Adam Peer, senior director, packaging, for Washington-based ACC. "These products provide business owners and consumers a cost-effective and environmentally preferable choice that is ideal for protecting food and preventing food waste."
Scott suggested to Vermont Public Radio in a May interview that he would sign the bill, if it had the support of the state's grocers and retailers. The Vermont Retailers and Grocers Association (VRGA) supports the bill.
Beyond banning bags and EPS food service packaging, Vermont's legislation requires restaurants to offer plastic straws upon request. And it would charge 10 cents for paper bags at checkout counters.
As well, it has what its lead author, Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison, calls a potentially far-reaching provision that creates a state working group to make recommendations on reducing single-use plastics.
"This bill is really a door into a much bigger topic," Bray said May 30 on the radio program Vermont Edition. "I think the most exciting things are what may come out of the working group ahead.
"We're looking at creating an extended producer responsibility program, so whoever creates the product has a responsibility for how its disposed of in the end," Bray said. "We already do this very successfully in Vermont for paint, for batteries, for anything containing mercury. We could build on an existing paradigm we already have."
Vermont's action would go further in one law than other U.S. states, which have taken up the topics separately: New York in March joined California in passing a statewide plastic bag ban, and Maine earlier this year became the first state to ban EPS food service containers.
Vermont's lobbying group for grocers and retailers said it was OK with the bag ban, calling it as "best as we can possibly get."
VRGA President Erin Sigrist said stores believe a statewide law would be easier to manage than a patchwork of local laws, and suggested grocers and retailers are responding to momentum toward bans.
"Plastic bags have been banned in entire countries, they've been banned in other states, they're banned all over several municipalities in New England," she told Vermont media. "So we know it's coming."