Statehouse Headliners: Phase 2 of war on plastics already planned; climate change plays role

By Guy Page

According to S.113, approved by the 2019 Legislature and now awaiting approval on Gov. Phil Scott’s desk, the statewide ban on point-of-sale plastic bags, straws and coffee stirrers will take effect July 1, 2020. But the Legislature is thinking ahead. Unless Gov. Scott vetoes S.113, a working group created by the bill will promptly select the next targets on the state of Vermont’s war on plastic.

This war is — as both the bill itself and a key supporter states — also part of the greater war on climate change.

Appearing on WDEV’s The Dave Gram Show Wednesday, Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), described which products S,113 would cover and which it wouldn’t — at least for now.

Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership, the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare, and Physicians, Families & Friends for a Better Vermont.

“It applies only to carry out bags, the bags you get at the checkout line,” Burns told host Gram, who this week returned to the microphone after a lengthy illness. “In a produce aisle … those plastic bags [to hold asparagus, for example] will — for now — be permissible. There’s no restriction on those at this point.” And that plastic bag or container for your cheese, fish or chicken? It’s safe too — for now.

“This is a first cut,” Burns said. “The law creates a working group to look at where do we go next. … We hope it will come up with a lot of good ideas, too.”

If the proposed working group (pg. 8, section 3) suffers from a lack of ideas, S.113 provides specific direction: items identified for consideration include “disposable plastic food service ware” like plates, cups and utensils; plastic film; and single-use printed materials including (oddly enough) telephone books but also possibly covering store sale flyers.

Single-use plastics permitted to remain should become more expensive, S.113 recommends. It suggests the working group consider a policy of “extended producer responsibility” for a producer of a product to “provide for and finance the collection, transportation, reuse, recycling, processing, and final management of the product.” Climate change also must be considered. The group should consider “a financial incentive for manufacturers, distributors, or brand owners of single-use products to minimize the environmental impacts of the products in Vermont. The environmental impacts considered shall include review of the effect on climate change of the production, use, transport, and recovery of single-use products.”

The bill does not mention what Rep. Jim Harrison said during House floor debate on S.113 – that bulkier, heavier, tree-based paper bags require about seven times as many fossil-fuel burning truckloads to deliver an equivalent number of plastic bags.

During the radio show Wednesday, Burns observed that “these are petroleum-based products, so there are climate implications here, too.” When Gram wondered aloud if people will consider just how much oil is being used to make plastics when the next oil crisis shortage hits, Burns answered:

It’s a lot bigger than you might think. They say the petroleum industry is actually counting on the continued expansion of the use of plastics as being an outlet for their product. It’s not just going into the gas tank. A lot of this petroleum material, some of it now derived from fracking of natural gas, is being used to make plastic.

Burns is correct about the significant oil/plastics connection. British Petroleum estimates that if the single-use plastic bans take hold worldwide, demand for oil could drop by two million barrels per day. Current demand is about 97 million barrels per day, with a peak/plateau of 110 million barrels per day expected by 2040, a BP economist said told the Guardian newspaper last year. About 15% of all petrochemicals are in the manufacture of single-use plastics.

Burns noted that the business and industry will be represented on the working group. Right again: of the 11 members, three will represent business and manufacturing interests. The other eight will represent state government, recyclers, solid waste districts, cities and towns, and “an environmental advocacy group located in the State that advocates for the reduction of solid waste and the protection of the environment.”

It is not clear which member, if any, would advocate for any free-speech concerns about banning printed materials such as phone books. Perhaps anticipating this concern, S.113 specifically exempts bound textbooks and literary and reference books. There is no mention of newspapers, which are often single-use items sold in retail stores.

S.113 calls for the group to meet for the first time by about July 1, deliver its report in December, and conclude its work by February.

Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.

Image courtesy of Michael Bielawski/TNR

9 thoughts on “Statehouse Headliners: Phase 2 of war on plastics already planned; climate change plays role

  1. So basically this is the leftarded ww111 on big Oil..They couldn’t kill it by over taxing, the people
    still needed to get to work. They couldn’t kill it by making new oil fields off limits. Smarter Administrations
    reopened them to drive the economy back into the black. They couldn’t kill it off care tactics, fracking
    will kill everyone and everything…and will cause gorebull warmongering. People have wised up to the
    Hoax…Well I’ve started stock piling single use plasic bags that I use to take back to the store to be
    recycled. So eventually they now cause me to “pollute with plastic” where I use to recycle reuse. Oh yeah how does plastic from VT landfills get into the Oceans since that’s what they scream their concerned about?? Did they reprimand China, India, SE Asia, who are the biggest dumpers of plastic in the oceans??

  2. I do not know who termed these bags “single use, but I ,find a mi-rad of ways to use, them as do most people I know. Perhaps the problem is not to get rid of the bags, but to learn to reuse. My life would be much more difficult without these bags, as I am sure most would who really know how to conserve.

  3. Let’s see we have a state in Debt, with people being overtaxed on every turn along the
    unfunded liabilities to every taxpayer” yup it’s your debt ” that Montpelier turns a blind eye to.

    But they have time to write another foolish bill like S.113 to ban Plastic Spoons & Straws
    and shopping bags………………….what a pack of geniuses, I guess the other issues to its
    constituents are no issue in their liberal minds.

    • Yes, the two big ones this year were plastic bags and Columbus Day while not touching the big deficit in the pension fund !! Priorities. Oh if the legislature wants a recommendation on plastic, BAN disposable diapers! Oh no people would get mad, would make life toooo Hard, More pollution with these than plastic bags!! No question!!

  4. I guess none of these people are smart enough to know the spoilage will increase with their plans, and then there are things like plastic that is used to protect consumers from things like someone doctoring pills and things to cause death.

    If they really want to do something, write a law that says sores can’t sell anything packaged in plastic. I’m tired of products that are hard to open, and running to the dump with recycling.

    • I suppose the new ‘law’ will prohibit UPS from delivering plastic bags too – the kind the stores use and the same kind I’ll be ordering from Amazon.

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