Vermont is moving ahead with a ban on single-use plastic bags on July 1 to cut down on plastics in the waste stream, though some other states postponed their bans out of fears of spreading the coronavirus via reusable bags.
Vermont's Agency of Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Conservation saw no need to change or postpone the ban on plastic bags, saying reusable bags can be used safely and are not any more of a risk than other surfaces customers and employees touch in retail transactions, said Secretary Julie Moore.
"Plastic bags take hundreds of years to break down, can harm wildlife, clog recycling machinery, and, together with other single-use products, make up an estimated 32% of Vermont's waste," she said by email.
In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker has banned shoppers from bringing in their reusable bags and also lifted the ban on plastic bags that stores can offer amid the pandemic. Maine has postponed to January a plastic bag ban that had been set to take effect in April, and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said this week that the state was not ready to return to allowing reusable bags, yet.
"We're just asking folks to be patient. We want to make sure that people are safe," Sununu said, while encouraging shoppers to save the plastic bags and recycle them at grocery stores.
"At some point, we obviously hope to get back to going back to the reusable bags. But I don't think we're there yet," he said.
In Vermont next month, customers at stores and food establishments can bring reusable bags or pay 10 cents apiece for paper bags, under the law. Some stores and food establishments may still offer plastic bags as they use up their stock, according to the Health Department.
The state worked with the Legislature, retails and other stakeholders on the law, Moore said.
Yet, the Vermont Retail Grocers Association asked early on in the pandemic for the ban to be postponed but was unsuccessful and recently asked for an extension or some leeway or variance on enforcement due to concerns about the available supply of paper bags, said Erin Sigrist, the association's president.
"We are learning that retailers and distributors are facing long waiting periods in receiving paper bags," she said by email.
"Providing some leeway on enforcement or just a few extra months to help retailers get customers through this transition would be incredibly helpful," Sigrist said.
Moore says the agency has explained to the association that enforcement discretion can be applied on a case-by-case basis if paper bag shortages affect the supply.
To reduce microorganisms including bacteria and viruses on reusable bags, Vermont encourages shoppers to bag their own groceries and regularly wash the bags.
Plastic bags can still be used in the stores to contain frozen foods, meat or fish, or to package loose fruit, vegetables, bakery goods or small hardware items.