A bill to prohibit the use of plastic grocery bags has been proposed in the state Legislature following a handful of other states that have implemented bag bans.
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Donzella James, D-Atlanta, comes five years after a bill to prevent local jurisdictions from passing their own plastic bag bans was defeated.
The ban would apply to carryout plastic bags provided by retailers. Bags used for bulk foods or uncooked meat, those containing newspapers, garment bags, bags used for food carryout orders or provided by a pharmacy for prescription drugs would be exempt from the ban.
James presented Senate Bill 280 in a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday. “This has passed in several states and their statistics proved they are working. I know it will work for us,” James said after the hearing.
Committee chairman, Sen. Frank Ginn, R-Danielsville, had previously stated there would not be a vote on the bill in committee but he wanted to offer the hearing for educational awareness.
“I am the biggest treehugger in the senate,” said Ginn, adding that he believes plastic bag bans should fall under local control. “I don’t think it is something we really want to push legislatively to the citizens of Georgia,” he said.
Plastic bags first appeared at supermarkets in 1977 and quickly became ubiquitous across the country. The average American family takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year, according to data from the Center for Biological Diversity. Waste Management, one of the largest recyclers in North America, revealed that only 1% of plastic bags are returned for recycling.
Bags and other single-use plastics that don’t get recycled end up in landfills, where they degrade into toxin-filled microplastics that can pollute food, air and water, said Jennette Gayer, director of Environment Georgia. Plastic that doesn’t make it to the landfill can end up in oceans and waterways — including local creeks and rivers in Georgia — where it may kill or harm marine life. “We can’t recycle our way out of this problem,” Gayer said.
California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont have all banned single-use plastic bags, as have more than 30 countries around the globe. Hundreds of municipalities in the U.S. have banned or taxed plastic bags. Last year, the Atlanta City Council voted to ban single-use plastics in city buildings and at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. A number of national retailers have taken steps to eliminate plastics, most notably Kroger, which pledged to stop giving customers single-use plastic bags by 2025.
Kathy Kuzava, president of the Georgia Food Industry Association, which represents the grocery industry before regulatory agencies, noted some larger stores reclaim their plastic bags for recycling. She also expressed concerns if the ban were to pass. “It is an absolute stop on the plastic bags. Where are we going to go from there?” she said. She recommended stores continue educating customers about recycling and continue providing recycling options.
Because he represents many communities along the Chattahoochee River, Sen. Matt Brass, R-Newnan, said he is very aware of growing concerns about plastic pollution. “I don’t think cleaning up our state should be a political issue. I feel like we can do something that is a responsible way to do it,” Brass said. “I don’t think flipping a switch and just banning it is a responsible way to do it.”
Brass indicated that with some changes — a shift in the timeline to give businesses time to execute plastic bag phaseouts and some additional exceptions — he might support the bill. “I see potential for the bill,” he said. “It definitely still needs some work.”
James, who agreed to extend the compliance date to 2025 to match Kroger’s plans, said plastic pollution is an urgent concern, and passing the bill would be a good start in combating the problem. Taos Wynn, president of Millennial Civil Rights Campaign, which worked with James on the bill, said they are incorporating suggestions and hope to have the committee revisit the bill as early as next week.
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