Bag ban sacked

Published 8:42 pm Saturday, January 22, 2011

Plastic bags: One of three bills seeking to limit or outlaw the use of thin plastic shopping bags in Virginia failed to make it out of committee in the House of Delegates this week. The two other bills have been assigned to a subcommittee for review.

By Catherine Leth

Capital News Service

A House committee has tabled a bill to ban flimsy plastic shopping bags in Virginia.

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On a voice vote Wednesday, the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee tabled House Bill 1498, which would have prohibited retailers from providing customers with thin plastic carryout bags.

The bill’s sponsor, Delegate Onzlee Ware, D-Roanoke, said reducing plastic waste would help the environment. He said it was not his intention to hurt Virginia businesses involved in producing or distributing such bags.

“I certainly understand they will stand up in opposition,” Ware said. “If we deal with it here or not, it is an issue; it’s going to impact the environment. It’s not going to go away.”

HB 1498 would have banned plastic bags unless they were durable with handles, at least 2.25 mils thick and specifically designed for multiple reuse. Two other proposals seeking to tax throwaway shopping bags still are alive in the General Assembly.

Ware knew he was facing a tough crowd at Tuesday morning’s committee meeting. He was the only speaker to support the bill.

“Be gentle” were his words to the string of opponents who took the floor after him.

Margaret Ballard, representing the Virginia Retail Federation, said a ban on plastic bags would be a “huge operational issue” for stores. She said recycling programs are more effective in curbing pollution.

Ballard cited a recycling campaign in Isle of Wight County that collected 1 million bags in one year. The “Isle Be Green” program won an environmental achievement award last year from the Virginia Association of Counties.

“If one county can do it, certainly this program has a chance for very good success,” Ballard said.

Another opponent, Rudy Underwood of the American Chemistry Council, said plastic bags aren’t the only ones that have environmental consequences.

“Plastic bags, paper bags, even reusable bags have them,” Underwood said. “We support a balanced approach: sort of encourage people not to use a bag if they don’t need to; use it again as a trash can liner, to pick up your dog’s mess, to recycle it if you can.”

Two of Ware’s Democratic colleagues in the House also are sponsoring legislation to discourage the use of plastic bags:

• HB 2047, sponsored by Delegate Adam Ebbin of Arlington, would impose a 5-cent fee on paper and plastic bags (unless they’re durable or being used for products such as meat or ice cream). Retailers would keep a penny or two; the rest of the money would be used to clean up Virginia’s waterways.

• HB 2341, sponsored by Delegate Joseph Morrissey of Richmond, would put a 20-cent tax on disposable plastic bags only. Retailers would keep 5-7 cents; the remainder would flow into the state treasury.

Both HB 2047 and HB 2341 have been assigned to a subcommittee of the House Finance Committee.