What is the purpose of the Reusable Checkout Bag Ordinance?
How will I carry my groceries home? I need those free bags.
What is the benefit to me? What is the benefit to the community?
I already reuse plastic bags, so what's the harm? What will I use instead?
What if I can’t afford to purchase a reusable bag?
Why is there 25-cent retail compensation on paper checkout bags? Is it a tax?
Are reusable bags safe? Won’t they harbor germs?
What bags are affected?
Why do we need another law? Isn’t an education campaign enough?
How much is this ordinance going to cost our Town?
Who is opposed to this type of plastic pollution reduction ordinance?
What is the purpose of the Reusable Checkout Bag (RCB) Ordinance? The intent of the RCB Ordinance is to significantly reduce the environmental and community impacts related to single-use plastic and paper checkout bags and promote a major shift toward the use of reusable bags.
How will I carry my groceries home? I need those free bags. Single-use plastic checkout bags aren’t free. Supermarkets recoup the estimated 2 to 5 cents they pay per plastic bag by increasing the price of groceries, meaning even people who bring their own bags to the store are supplementing the cost of plastic bags. A small investment in reusable bags will pay for itself within a few uses, and some markets give rebates to customers who bring their own bags to the store. Additionally, there is nothing in the ordinance that prohibits customers from bringing their own bags of any type to take home their groceries or other purchases.
What is the benefit to me? What is the benefit to the community? The RCBI Ordinance will result in less litter, which is important, not just for environmental reasons, but also because our community occupies 32 miles of our country's most treasured estuary. In addition, reducing plastic bags provide less risk of increased trash bills due to equipment breakdowns, less plastic contamination in the food supply, less threat and damage to local wildlife and waterways, and serves as a good lesson for all of us on conserving resources.
I already reuse plastic bags, so what's the harm? What will I use instead? While many of us make an effort to reuse our single-use plastic checkout bags, the proliferation, distribution and harmful polluting effects remain the same. Of the trillions of plastic bags a year, 5%-32% find their way into our environment and food system. The RCBI ordinance prohibits single-use plastic checkout bags; it does not prohibit packaged bags, produce bags, newspaper bags and bread bags that may be used for garbage liners. Pet waste bags are provided at local parks and trails by the Town.
What if I can’t afford to purchase a reusable bag? Stores are asked to provide customers participating in Food program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and customers participating in the Supplemental Food (SNAP) program with a recycled paper bag at no cost at the point of sale.
Why is there a 25-cent compensation on paper checkout bags? Is it a tax? The 25-cent retail compensation on paper checkout bags is intended to encourage customers to bring reusable bags and reduce their dependence on single-use bags of all types, both paper and plastic. A small fee for paper bags—coupled with a ban on plastic bags—is the most effective way to institute an ordinance. Most all other cities and counties that have recently passed bans have included the paper bag retail compensation component. The cost pass-through reimburses retailers for the costs of providing recycled paper checkout bags to their customers. All of the revenue from the retail compensation remains with the business establishment. The retail compensation is not a tax, none of it goes to the Town of Greenwich.
Are reusable bags safe? Won’t they harbor germs? A 2010 study by Californians Against Waste shows that reusable bags have no more bacteria than other items you bring home from the store. Using common sense, washing your hands, and washing or wiping down bags when they get dirty, virtually eliminates any risk of illness.
What bags are affected? All single-use plastic and virgin paper checkout bags provided at the point of checkout for business establishments are covered by the ordinance and as noted in the definition above. All single-use recycled paper checkout bags provided at the point of check out.
Why do we need another law? Isn’t an education campaign enough? Sometimes education is not enough to change habits that are considered part of everyday life but can be harmful to many. As members of a community, we accept regulations imposed on us every day: we’re not allowed to litter; we must not text and drive; we must use a seat belt. This RCBI ordinance is similar to these forms of legislation where voluntary compliance has not achieved the desired results because of reluctance of individuals to change their
behavior. Studies show that education alone does not change behavior on bag use. The RCBI ordinance is about residents taking responsibility for the costs to our society when using single-use shopping bags.
How much is this ordinance going to cost our Town? The estimated cost to the Town of Greenwich is zero additional dollars. The time required in the first year of the RCB ordinance rollout is estimated to be 40 hours for an existing employee to monitor and enforce, and will be 12-24 hours per year in subsequent years.
Who is opposed to this type of plastic pollution reduction ordinance? The largest opposition comes from the fossil fuel, plastics and chemical industries/lobbyists but also from consumers that just don't want to change their habits.
Frequently Asked Bag Questions
What other communities regulate plastic bags?
What damage do single-use plastic bags cause?
Do bag bans really work?
What about recycling; isn’t that a better solution?
Do plastic bags biodegrade?
Why not switch to paper bags?
Wouldn’t compostable bags solve the problem?
Why are reusable bags better for the environment?
Where can I get reusable bags?
What if I forget my reusable bags?
Why not offer plastic bags, but charge for them instead?
What about the statewide plastic bag law?
What other communities regulate plastic bags? Over 320 cities in the USA, 40+ countries around the world regulate single-use plastic bags.
What damage do plastic bags cause? Single-use plastic bags are used in extremely high volumes (more than 11 million per year in the Town of Greenwich) and only a small fraction of them are ever recycled. They are produced from nonrenewable resources and are designed to be disposable (rather than reusable). While some single-use plastic checkout bags are reused, many of them are simply used once and then discarded. Once discarded, single-use plastic bags often remain in the environment for decades or longer. These bags can end up in landfills or be swept away by the wind and get caught in trees, fences, and storm drains. If they are disposed of at all—many end up in the wrong waste bin and jam recycling equipment resulting in work stoppages and loss of efficiency at the waste collection facility. Eventually, plastic bags can find their way to the ocean, where they can do significant damage to wildlife. More and more marine animals are found with plastic bag particles in their digestive systems. Reuseit.com reports that hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food. Plastics can be found all along the food chain: microscopic plastic particles have been found in the tissue of fish.
Do bag bans really work? Yes. The results speak for themselves. Jurisdictions that have instituted similar bans have seen significant changes in the amount of bags used and the problems they cause. One year after LA County implemented its bag ban, there was a 95% reduction in the distribution of all single-use bags, including a 30% reduction in paper bags. San Jose has seen an 89% reduction of plastic bag litter in storm drains, a 60% reduction in creeks, and a 59% reduction in city streets.
What about recycling; isn’t that a better solution? According to statistics no more than 3-5 percent of plastic bags are recycled, in spite of the fact that there are bins at all major grocery stores, large retailers and pharmacies. The majority of bags are never recycled or are disposed of improperly; most end up in landfills or waterways. Because we are unable to recycle the bags locally, our only option is to dispose of them into the gray trash containers (which go to the landfill via incinerator); however many end up in the blue recycling bins, ultimately jamming recycling equipment, resulting in costly work stoppages. In the City of Napa approximately 1,000 pounds of plastic bags that Napa Recycling and Waste Services (NRWS) collects each day are baled and have little value. This low-grade film plastic has no domestic market and is shipped to Asia, at a cost that is at much more than their value, according to NRWS.
Do plastic bags biodegrade? They don’t. They can last hundreds of years in landfills, unless exposed to the sun, which photo-degrades them into smaller and smaller particles. But even then, the plastic doesn’t disappear—scientists are now finding microscopic plastic particles in the world’s oceans and in the tissue of fish.
Why not switch to paper bags? Although they are recyclable and biodegradable and do not create the same problems associated with litter and marine life, paper bags also have their own environmental impact. Manufacturing them requires trees as well as large amounts of water. It has been estimated that 14 million trees are cut down every year to make paper bags for shoppers in the U.S. It also takes a significant amount of energy to produce, distribute, and dispose of paper bags.
Wouldn’t compostable bags solve the problem? Being compostable and being composted are two different things. Compostable bags (such as those made from cornstarch) only break down in an active composting process. They do not decompose in the natural environment because of the lack of heat, or in landfills because of the lack of oxygen. When used to hold wet food waste that goes into an organics-composting program, they can be beneficial, but otherwise they are no better than traditional plastic.
Why are reusable bags better for the environment? Reusable bags can be used many times, and thus create less landfill waste and fewer environmental impacts than other types of bags. Naturally, as with any product there are still some environmental impacts associated with their production and distribution, but reusable bags made from recycled polyethylene have a lower footprint than single-use plastic after as few as eight uses. They use 50% less energy, have 40% less impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and solid waste resources, and use 30% less water.
Where can I get reusable bags? Reusable bags are widely available for purchase at select retail stores and markets and many organizations and businesses offer such bags through promotions and events for free. Don’t overlook the bags you already have in your home or office—tote bags made of canvas or nylon, for example.
What if I forget my reusable bags? Getting used to new habits takes a little time and practice. If you forget your bag, most stores will offer reusable paper bags for a minimal charge, generally 99- cents. To avoid needing to buy bags, keep reusable bags in the car and tuck a small, collapsible bag into your purse or glove box or attach one to your keychain for quick shopping trips. Pretty soon, bringing your own reusable bags into stores will become second nature—just like –fastening your seatbelt.
Why not offer plastic bags, but charge for them instead? The goal of this ordinance is to reduce overall plastic bag use. As illustrated in other communities who have passed similar ordinances, bans are better than fees at helping reach this goal. For example, California law (AB2449) prohibited charging for plastic bags, however it didn’t prohibit charging for paper bags. As a result, retailers are able to recover their cost for providing paper bags, and this small fee helps encourages customers to use reusable bags, thus also reducing the use of paper bags.
What about the statewide plastic bag law? "The ‘Bag Tax’ and a key legislative committee says it should start this October." Well it never did start. It would have required a nickel tax on non-reusable bags at the supermarket and other retailers, and the bill passed the Environment Committee with both Democrat and Republican votes. One estimate says that Connecticut residents use nearly one billion plastic bags a year. This proposal was aimed at cutting down the litter and raising money. It’s estimated the nickel fee could generate as much as twenty million dollars.It would have been a dedicated stream of cash to help pay for the maintenance and keeping state parks open so that they would be insulated from the coming state budget cuts. The Democratic co-chair of the committee, Senator Ted Kennedy Junior of Branford calls it a ‘win-win’ idea that will also reduce the use of the bags. The rumor was there was not consensus on how the money raised who be allocated. California, was the nation’s first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags. Their state’s plastic bag ban allows local ordinances already on the books to remain in effect. The state legislation took effect July 1, 2015, at large groceries and variety stores such as Wal-Mart and Target, and will be extended to convenience stores and drugstores in 2016.
Frequently Asked Education Questions
What types of business establishments are required to charge 25-cents for each recycled paper bag?
What is being done to educate the public?
Where can I get more information?
How can I avoid the charge?
What types of business establishments are required to charge 25 cents for each recycled paper checkout bag? All businesses establishments included in the ordinance are prohibited from distributing free single-use old wood growth, non recyclable, 40% or less post consumer brown paper and plastic checkout bags. If businesses decide to make recycled paper checkout bags available for their customers, they are required to sell them for not less than 25 cents per bag. The charge must be listed as a single line item on the customer’s receipt and is not taxable to the consumer.
What is being done to educate the public? The Town of Greenwich and BYOGreenwich are planning an outreach campaign to business establishments and residents, and the BYOGreenwich website will be regularly updated with current information. Information about new options for residents and customers will be shared online, in newsletters and local media, through point-of-purchase information, in training sessions for retailer staff, and through outreach at community events. A reusable bag promotion is also being developed in order to support local retailers in transition. Additionally, local businesses are invited to attend one of two "how-to" workshops. Attendees will receive a Business Toolkit, which includes resources for communicating with employees and customers about the ordinance; helpful tips to ease the transition to reusable bags and to help customers remember their reusable bags; frequently asked questions and the answers about the ordinance; and more.
Where can I get more information? There are many sources of available information. Our town web site WDR (Waste Disposal & Recycling) has great information on what we can do with items that can be recycled—Visit BYOGreenwich Newsroom for resources and movies. BYOGreenwich's goal is to help ease the transition away from single-use plastic bags, and make sure you understand the ordinance and how it will affect you.
How can I avoid the charge? You can avoid the charge by bringing your own bag or refusing a bag when you make a small purchase that is easy to carry without a bag. Just say no to a disposable bag.
Frequently Asked RCB Ordinance Questions
What does the RCB Ordinance cover?
What is the RCB Ordinance definition of a single-use plastic checkout bag?
When does the RCB Ordinance take effect?
Who is affected by the RCB ordinance?
What is the RCB Ordinance’s definition of a recycled paper bag?
What is the RCB Ordinance’s definition of a reusable bag?
Is an ordinance the same as a law?
How will the RCB Ordinance be enforced?
What happens to businesses that do not comply?
Are there any bag exceptions in the RCB ordinance?
What does the RCB ordinance cover? Under this ordinance, use of single-use plastic checkout bags will no longer be permitted at business establishments. Paper bags will be allowed, but business establishments will be required to charge customers 25 cents per bag to encourage customers to use reusable bags. The 25-cents is not taxable, and retailers retain the revenue in order to offset the costs of providing paper bags.
What is the RCB Ordinance’s definition of a single-use checkout bag? “Single-use, plastic checkout bag” means any bag less than 6 mil thick and made predominately of plastic derived from petroleum or bio-based sources, such as corn or other plant source, and includes compostable, non-compostable, and biodegradable plastic bags. These are the typical and familiar plastic bags with handles found at most stores. Bags used within stores, such as bags for produce, bulk foods, meat and seafood, flowers and other similar uses where health, safety and moisture may be a concern will not be affected. In addition, home delivery bags for newspapers, dry cleaning and plastic bags sold in packages (for garbage or pet waste, for example) would be exempt. "Single-use paper checkout bags “means any paper brown paper bag with paper handles.
What bags are affected? All single-use plastic checkout bags provided at the point of checkout for business establishments are covered by the ordinance and as noted in the definition above. All single-use brown paper bags with paper handles provided at the point of check out.
When does the RCB ordinance take effect? The BYOGreenwich Initiative was unanimously passed by the Selectmen on July 13, 2017. The RCB Ordinance next gets presented to and voted into law by the RTM early 2018. When passed by RTM, in order to allow sufficient time for business establishments to use up their existing inventory of bags and to adjust to the requirements of the ordinance, implementation will be phased in over six months.
Who is affected by the RCB ordinance? All business establishments located in the Town of Greenwich, including, but not limited to, supermarkets and grocery stores, department stores, clothing stores, convenience stores, drug stores and pharmacies, farmers markets, take out/delivery restaurants, Town events that provide single-use checkout bags will be required to follow this law.
What is the RCB Ordinance’s definition of a recycled paper bag? "Recycled paper bag” means a paper carryout bag provided by a store to a customer at the point of sale that contains no old-growth fiber and a minimum of 40% post-consumer recycled material and is 100% recyclable. The word “recyclable” must be printed in some manner on the outside of the bag, along with the name and location of the manufacturer and the percentage of post-consumer recycled content.
What is the RCB Ordinance’s definition of a reusable bag? “Reusable bag” means either a bag made of cloth or other machine-washable fabric that has handles, or a durable plastic bag with handles that is at least 6 mil thick and is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse.
Is an ordinance the same as a law? Yes, an ordinance is simply a law or regulation made by a city or town government. Example: The town has passed a zoning ordinance limiting water usage.
How will the RCB ordinance be enforced? The Department of Conservation of the Town of Greenwich is responsible for enforcing the RCBI Ordinance.
What happens to business establishments that do not comply? The Department of Conservation will focus primarily on education and helping businesses comply. For those who are persistently out of compliance, a warning can be issued and fines may be imposed, ranging from $300 to $500, based on provisions relating to enforcement of violations.
Are there any bags exempted in the RCB Ordinance? Yes. The following uses are exempt from the requirements of the RCB Ordinance:
Plastic produce bags used for vegetables, fruits and meats or loose bulk items such as nuts, grains, beans and pasta, used within grocery stores
Newspaper, laundry or dry cleaning bags
Pharmacy bags used to contain prescription drugs
Bags used for the transportation of prepared take-out foods and liquids from restaurants and other food providers
Branded paper bags with store logo and fabric or raffia handles