In 2008, Westport became the first town in Connecticut to ban the use of plastic bags in stores. Since then, several towns throughout the state have followed suit. Building on that momentum, Connecticut lawmakers in the Environmental Committee passed a bill last month that would ban all stores statewide from using any plastic bags.

But, to become law, the bill must pass the state House and Senate. Along with the plastic bag ban, the legislation may eventually include language to charge customers a small fee if they wish to use paper bags. The combination of these two efforts would encourage consumers to bring their own reusable bags when shopping, according to one of the 12 co-sponsors of the bill, state Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport. Haskell mentioned that his hometown has set an example for the rest of the state.

“Westport was actually the first town in Connecticut to do it. And it worked! Consumer behavior changed,” Haskell told the News. “If you stand outside the supermarket, as political candidates do sometimes, it’s easy to see people have learned to bring reusable bags when they shop.”

After passing with a 24–4 margin through committee on March 25 and being reported out of the legislative commissioners office on April 11, the bill, now on the Democratic-controlled Senate calendar, awaits action before the 2019 legislative session ends on June 5.

State Rep. David Michel, D-Stamford, told the News that the language and content of the bill is likely to change before a full vote occurs. Michel hopes that the legislation includes a fee for paper bags, which he thinks is a strong starting point for Connecticut to begin taking more aggressive action on climate change.

“Let’s start with plastic bags. I’ll vote for anything I can get, but we don’t have to put a limit on the area,” Michel told the News. “And we should charge for papers bags — The point is to educate people to use reusable bags.”

Another co-sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Anne Hughes, D-Weston, agreed that the provision is just one part of a wider effort to address climate change in the state. As co-chair of the progressive caucus, Hughes told the News that she is pushing for a Green New Deal in Connecticut to mirror the one proposed on the Hill.

Hughes is also excited to follow the example of several Connecticut towns — 10 of them to date have banned plastic bags — by passing legislation in Hartford.

“I’m very proud of several of our towns. The legislature is not by itself a very courageous body,” Hughes told the News. “But it is ready to be held accountable. … We are following the lead of the towns.”

While Michel concurred that the plastic bag ban would be just one part of broader climate change action in Connecticut, he also has first-hand experience with the dangers of plastic. He began organizing beach cleanups in Connecticut six years ago, when he found plastic spread across the beach and in large areas of the ocean, damaging underwater life. Since then, he has collected around 15 thousand pounds of recyclables.

“If you look carefully at sand on the beach, you will find tiny pieces of plastic everywhere.” Michel told the News. “Plastic is taking over. The first plastic toy still exists today, it hasn’t broken down.”

Michel, Hughes and Haskell all said the bill is likely to pass this legislative session. Haskell mentioned that the bill has support from many major grocery stores — who would rather comply with one statewide rule rather than a handful of differing city ordinances.

Democrats have clear majorities in both chambers in Hartford — boasting a 91–60 lead in the House and a 22–14 advantage in the Senate. Hughes emphasized the need for immediate action to take advantage of this majority, telling the News that it was an imperative part of the legislator’s job to empower young people and help positively shape their future.

“We really want to amplify young voices and the will of young community members. This is about the future of the planet and the future of our state,” Hughes told the News. “This is your future that we have very limited time to change the outcome of. Hopefully this is the first of many wakes of momentum to change the directory we’re on.”

According to the CT Post, newly elected Gov. Ned Lamont SOM ’80 suggested a 10-cent surcharge on plastic bags in his state budget — which would aim to raise $30 million for the state in 2020. His proposed legislation would not prevent towns from having stricter regulations on bags.

Along these lines, Lamont has also advocated for aggressive climate change action during his first few months in office, including fully weening Connecticut off of fossil fuels by 2050.

California and Hawaii are the only states to have instituted statewide bans on plastic bags.

Emmett Shell | emmett.shell@yale.edu