Plastic bags, straws, bottles, and other waste present a significant threat to the ecosystems in the Long Island Sound and across Connecticut. Turtles can mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, and when they ingest them, the bags can lodge in their stomachs. Plastic can also cause intestinal blockages in whales and dolphins.
The United Nations has estimated that more than 8 million tons of plasticwind up in our oceans each year. Connecticut uses more than 400 million plastic bags each year. Many of these end up in the Connecticut River and eventually in our oceans.
In Connecticut, Greenwich and Westport have banned single-use plastic bags to help turn the tide against this wave of pollution. Towns including Guilford, Mansfield, Norwich, Stamford, and Waterford are also considering similar legislation, and the town of Stonington is considering bans on both bags and straws.
Nationally, some large retailers and restaurant companies have recently announced initiatives to curb plastic consumption. Starbucks and McDonalds have both announced they will be phasing out plastic straws, while Krogers has announced it will stop providing single-use plastic bags.
At the state level, plastic bag bans and fees have been proposed in the Connecticut General Assembly, but none have made it to the Governor's desk. Some lawmakers have also proposed fixes to strengthen our recycling program, also known as the "Bottle Bill." The last attempt to modernize our recycling program died in the House in 2018.
Connecticut's "Bottle Bill" is a landmark recycling program that unfortunately fails to account for the wide array of juices, sports drinks, and other beverage containers that have grown in popularity over the years. In 2018, the Environment Committee considered HB 5457: An Act Concerning Bottle Redemption Centers.
HB 5457 sought to modernize the Bottle Bill. Currently, recycling "handlers" that collect and recycle bottles and cans are going out of business. Connecticut has not properly adjusted the compensation these redemption centers receive for 34 years, even as handling costs have risen sharply. Compensation still stands at just 1.5 cents for beer cans and 2 cents for soda and other beverages.
Four years ago, there were 21 redemption centers across Connecticut. Now there are only 16. These remaining handlers face high overhead and operation costs. As recycling centers continue to close, more Connecticut residents will be left without convenient locations to return their plastic bottles, resulting in more plastics in landfills and waterways.
HB 5457 sought to find a solution to this challenge, but unfortunately it was badly rewritten before being voted out of the Environment Committee. No further action was taken by the House.
In 2019, CTLCV anticipates new actions on the Bottle Bill and proposals to address plastic bags and perhaps straws at the state level.