Connecticut is on the right track by not including fees on paper carryout bags.
As proposals to ban single-use plastic bags and mandate a fee on paper carryout bags abound around the country, a recent amendment to Connecticut’s state budget bill sets a prime example by not including fees for paper bags.
Paper bags have undeservedly been looped into ubiquitous “bag bills” without consideration for the solutions they offer. While the budget committee considered a fee on paper and plastic bags as a means to meet budget shortfalls, the environment committee rightly passed their bag bill without a fee on paper and the final budget reflects that decision.
Beyond the obvious solution provided by a paper carryout bag —namely, a convenient way to transport purchases from the store to the home— consider the following solutions courtesy of paper bags.
Paper bags are made from a renewable resource: trees. Through sustainable forest management, paper products can be provided continually to meet the needs of generations today and tomorrow.
Contrary to popular belief, reduced demand for paper bags or other paper products will not “save trees.” Demand for paper products supports our nation’s forests by giving land owners an incentive to continue to grow, harvest and replant trees. Reduced demand for paper products increases the likelihood forests will be converted to other land uses, like parking lots or raising cattle.
Working forests (i.e. forests that are actively managed for a variety of purposes) clean the air we breathe. Through photosynthesis, trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it to sugars used for their growth. In the process, carbon is sequestered by the tree and oxygen is released as a byproduct. In 2016, U.S. forests and wood products captured and stored an estimated 12.6 percent of all carbon dioxide emitted by fossil fuel consumption in the U.S.
Paper bags are highly recycled and are a fixture in community recycling programs throughout the country. In 2018, 68.1 percent of all paper consumed in the U.S. was recovered for recycling, and the recovery rate has met or exceeded 63 percent for the past 10 years. In addition, paper bags are typically the only type of carryout bag accepted for recycling at curbside.
Commonly, proponents of bag bills have either unfairly included both plastic and paper bags or drawn short-sighted comparisons between plastic and paper bags by focusing on transportation costs or energy use during production. The conversation should stick to the environment, and Connecticut shows itself a leader by not including a fee on paper bags.
A fee on paper bags will never be the answer. Retailers do not provide paper bags to their consumers “for free;” their cost is factored into the items for sale in the store. And discussions about paper bag fees will always undermine what should be our focus when it comes to paper bags: the solutions they provide.
Hap Perkins is President of the Connecticut Container Corp. in North Haven.
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