Gov. Scott signs plastic bag ban despite criticism from industry, widespread doubts about usefulness

Michael Bielawski/TNR

SINGLE-USE?: A typical cabinet under the sink features both commercially bought plastic bags and plastic bags collected from grocery store checkouts.

The nation’s newest plastic bag ban was signed into law Monday by Gov. Phil Scott, making Vermont yet another state with questionable restrictions on popular bags, straws and stirrers.

Starting next July, stores will be prohibited from providing plastic checkout bags and similar single-use plastics. Customers will be able to purchase paper bags for a fee of 10 cents.

While Scott has suggested that “retailers have no problems with this bill,” Erin Sigrist, president of the Vermont Retail & Grocers Association, says that’s not quite accurate.

“It’s been a mixed response,” she said. “If you think about walking into a large grocery store and you are provided a plastic bag or a paper bag, right now you have two options. And if you take one of those options away and simply continue to provide a free option, otherwise known as paper bag, you are just going to shift that expectation from plastic to paper.”

The 10-cent fee on paper bags means there will not be a free option. She said large grocery stores encouraged a fee as a way to encourage customers to switch to reusable bags.

Smaller retailers generally have been more reluctant to embrace the ban, even though a change has been brewing for some time.

“[Single-use bags] have been banned in municipalities around the state, and several other states have banned them, so they understand that it’s coming. But if you think about a small retailer, they might have four or five different size bags,” she said.

The Vermont Retail & Grocers Association asked the Legislature to clarify standards and help retailers comply, but that will have to wait until next legislative session.

Many questions exist about whether plastic bag bans are effective. According to one NPR story from April, paper bag alternatives may actually be worse for the environment, once the entire production process is taken into account.

In a recent commentary about the legislation, Ethan Allen Institute President Rob Roper notes that plastic bags “require fewer resources to produce” and get repeated uses in most homes.

Sigrist said she’s heard these concerns as well.

“We understand if you look at the life-cycle of a product from start to finish, that yes, there is a similar impact when it comes to processing paper bags and going through that life-cycle. … It’s certainly information that needs to be made available to everyone, and I think that there are larger conversations that need to be had about plastics in general, not just plastic bags.”

Some reports mention that demand for thicker plastic bags increases in places where plastic bag bans are enacted.

“I’ve read those studies as well — I have absolutely heard from several people that that is a concern,” Sigrist said. “I use plastic bags for trash cans and cat litter and all of that, too. So yes, we have to find alternatives and that will require people to use more plastic bags, and it’s certainly an unintended consequence of that ban.”

A New York Post editorial from last year notes that “even a national ban wouldn’t dent worldwide plastic output.”

While the measures go into effect July 1, 2020, Sigrist said stores are already taking action.

“We have a year to figure out how it will work for retailers and I’m looking forward to working with the legislature to make any tweaks that we might feel are necessary,” she said.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Joe Mabel and Michael Bielawski/TNR

16 thoughts on “Gov. Scott signs plastic bag ban despite criticism from industry, widespread doubts about usefulness

  1. Is the purpose of our government to change our habits?

    What ever happened to freedom of choice and free markets?

    This seems more like activism for a cause not governance that preserves Liberty!

    How many Vermont plastic bags end up in the Ocean anyway?

    Yet we use our government to tinker with human behavior and justify it by saying it is a change that deserves a try!

    Sounds more like something lobbied for by a special interest collective!

  2. I’d like to know where the legislature has the legal right to tell store owners that they will charge their customers 10 cents per paper bag? This is government intervention that I believe is illegal and should be challenged in court. What is next, telling store owners what hours of operation they will be limited to in order to conserve energy?

    If retailers don’t get together and bring this provision of the law to court then shame on them for allowing the VT legislature dictate how they will operate their own business. The business community is very complacent in this state never willing to rock the boat for fear of political retaliation. As a result the legislature walks all over them.

    The beginning of a slippery slope.

  3. This is just dumb. Those bags use so little material, are tough and reusable, and I’m sure have less environmental impact than the paper bags do.
    It’s just virtue signaling, posturing.
    Still, I use a reusable bag for most of my groceries, and get a 3 cents rebate at the supermarket for using it.
    Making these issues into laws shows how useless the “lawmakers” really are.

  4. I have been watching for 2 months as we drive to see the evil plastic bag hanging in a tree or on a farm barbed wire. Have not seen one!
    For us, we use ‘cloth’ bags when we remember. Plastic is a fallback – and a good one. We reuse these bags to gather articles in the car trunk, to put kitchen garbage in the trash, line the other waste baskets. The handles tie better than most of the thicker bought bags. And we take any excess bags back to the stores free recycling bin, which is popular enough so that it overflows.
    Our alternative is to buy waste basket liners, bags to carry stuff away from home, bags to pick up messes, and lots more uses.
    The effect is for the stores to sell more single use bags for household use – the rule has unintended and thoughtless consequences.

  5. Brattleboro, you remember Brattleboro right? Third largest town in Vt. and filled with all kinds of artistic types. Well, they passed a Town regulation, at least a couple of years ago, that banned retailers from providing single use plastic bags to their customers. This has worked just fine…. no real amount of disagreement, except from a few retailers who have do have sane reasons. Overall a win win decisions. So, why crucify Mr. Scott for bowing to pressure, call him a weasel?
    If all things are impermanent, which actually they are, then what is you complaint? This new rule is an attempt, merely an attempt, to change our old habits, which have proven destructive to our oceans, among other things, into a new habit. Will it work? Will it be a change for the betterment of the environment? Will it last? Will shoppers miss plastic bags? Who knows? It is a change that deserves a try. Thank you Gov.

    • I’m already making plans to make more trips to NH for my shopping. Will probably buy more online too.

    • It’s not a win-win when you have to buy thicker plastic bags to replace
      what you use “one use” for after the first use which is a lie as they have 1000 and 1 uses.
      So we use more evil oil to produce bigger bags putting more evil co2 in
      the atmosphere. Also the lie used that VT plastic bags are polluting the ocean and now more wood has to be cut to make more paper bags as
      well. Good thing we have all the co2 plant food to keep the trees growing. Like others said just a stupid leftarded solution to a non problem…at great cost to VTrs

  6. Hey Scott, Feel better now???? Suggest you spend time on real issues. Plastic bag ban? Wow, you’ve really solved a BIG problem. I guess thinking small makes you feel. Big.

  7. I’m glad I live near NH, which will minimize if not eliminate this idiocy for me. I’ll still be using and reusing plastic bags indefinitely.

  8. This shows that “Common Sense ” has gone from the Governors office, signing this
    useless bill just goes to show !!

    Idiots, and there running the state ……. Shameful.

  9. The only thing one can count of from Gov,Scott is he is a RINO’s RINO and yet he wants to seek reelection in a supposedly conservative party.

  10. As is true with the Dems and Progs…..Truth is their enemy ….. so it is with Scott. He would sooner bow to pressure than exercise any semblance of common sense or character. Weasel (sorry weasels…….).

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