SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah state senator, backed by multiple organizations such as the Utah Association of Counties and the Utah League of Cities and Towns, wants the state to assess a 10 cent fee on disposable plastic and paper bags used in places like grocery stores.
The problem, according to Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, is the bags fill up landfills, clog recycling machines and litter neighborhoods. The plastic ones take 1,000 years to degrade, and the paper bags release methane as they are decomposing in landfills.
Her bill, SB196, passed the Senate Business and Labor Committee on a 3-2 vote for consideration by the full Senate.
"Most people who don't want to pay a few extra cents for a bag that is going to pollute the environment will bring an extra bag," said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross. " It is incentivizing people to do the right thing."
Weiler said he favored the bill, even as he acknowledged Iwamoto and her supporters would face an "uphill battle" to get the measure through the Legislature.
Iwamoto said other cities and states, and even countries such as Ireland, which she said has seen a 93 percent decrease in the bags, have adopted prohibitions or fees to address the growing problem.
"This is an incentive so hopefully people reduce their use of single-use bags over time," she said, adding that less than 3 percent of the plastic bags are recycled.
Several people spoke against the bill, including a Weber State University student who said he spent two years in Denmark.
Ken Burton said bag fees there were as high as 40 cents, but it didn't stop people from using them.
"You buy them anyway because you need them," he said. "I don't think this is the best way to reduce plastic bags."
George Chapman called the plastic bag an "American success story," and said the fee amounted to a tax on food.
Iwamoto countered that people have the choice to bring their own reusable bags — some stores offer financial incentives to do so — and other stores don't even offer bags.
The measure has stoked early opposition from the American Progressive Bag Alliance, a plastics industry organization formed in 2005 to fight bag fees or bans.
"Taxes and regulations on highly reused and 100 percent recyclable plastic retail bags don’t solve waste management problems, and they don’t benefit local economies or the environment," said Mark Daniels, the alliance's chairman. "In fact, taxing the most environmentally friendly bagging option threatens to harm the most vulnerable citizens and jeopardize good-paying jobs in Utah."