Connecticut shoppers say they’re ready for phase-out of plastic shopping bags

Connecticut shoppers will experience a retail paradigm shift Thursday as the first phase of the state’s single-use plastic bag ban goes into effect.

Depending upon where you shop, you will either pay a 10-cent fee for using plastic bags or they will no longer be available. A full statewide ban will go into place on July 1, 2021.

The ban does not include plastic bags provided for meat, seafood, loose produce or other unwrapped food items. Bags that newspapers are delivered in and those used at laundries or dry cleaners are also exempt.

Consumers have a couple of choices when it comes time to bag their purchases. They can use purchase reusable bags made of canvas or cloth or they can use paper bags.

But if they choose paper, some retailers now will require them to pay for the bags. For example, several of Connecticut’s largest supermarket chains are charging a 10-cent fee per paper bag.

The rationale for charging for paper bags, which currently are free at most stores, is to nudge as many consumers as possible toward using reusable bags — which also have to be purchased, albeit only once.

“People say paper bags are better for the environment, but you’re still not reducing your carbon footprint as much as possible,” said Stew Leonard Jr., whose chain of seven grocery stores includes Connecticut locations in Norwalk, Danbury and Newington. “You’ve still got people cutting down trees to use in making the bags and you’ve got the trucks that bring the bags to the stores. This will make sure that people who use paper bags will use only what they really need.”

Quincy, Mass.-based Stop & Shop announced Monday it will eliminate the use of plastic bags in its 91 Connecticut stores starting Thursday.

To help consumers transition from single-use plastic bags, Stop & Shop customers can bring in any plastic bag that can be recycled to any one of the chain’s Connecticut stores and will receive a free reusable bag in return for as long as supplies last. (Only one bag can be swapped per visit.) Stop & Shop will not charge a fee for paper bags through the month of August; the 10-cent per paper bag fee will begin Sept. 3.

“We appreciate the fact that it’s going to take our customers time to make this adjustment, so we’re waiving the fee on paper throughout the month of August at most stores, offering reusable bag giveaways, and doing everything we can to help make the transition an easy one,” said Rudy DiPietro, Stop & Shop’s senior vice president of operations.

Public support

The majority of consumers contacted by the New Haven Register Monday were supportive of the plan to reduce plastic waste in the environment.

Amy Ritz Hourigan of Cheshire said she feels good about the plastic bag ban.

“I can’t stand seeing all the news stories about turtles, whales and other sea life that are tangled in plastic or have ingested plastic,” Hourigan said. “The fewer plastic bags out there, the better. I hope the state is using the money to better the environment.”

Money collected from the fee on plastic bags will go to the state’s General Fund, according to officials with the New Haven-based Connecticut Fund for the Environment.

Hamden resident Suzanne Miller said the single-use plastic bags have a value that goes beyond bringing groceries home from the supermarket.

“Not a popular sentiment, but for weekly doggy ‘poop patrol’ in my yard, and for bagging soiled clothes in our daycare center, the single use plastic bags are invaluable,” Miller said.

Several people contacted by the Register noted that some retailers that sell groceries, such as Aldi and BJ’s Wholesale Club, don’t provide customers with any kind of bag.

Eighteen Connecticut communities have either banned or are considering banning single-use plastic bags, including Hamden, Branford and Guilford.

Norwalk’s bag plastic ban went into effect earlier this month, Leonard said.

Before the ban went into effect, the Stew Leonard’s location in Norwalk was using 2,000 paper bags per week, he said. Now, Leonard said the Norwalk store is using 12,000 per week.

Before the Norwalk ban went into effect, the Stew Leonard’s there was using 42,000 plastic bags per week. Now, with the 10-cent fee in place, the store is using only 12,000 per week.

Stew Leonard’s sells its own reusable bags for $1 each and prior to the Norwalk ban being enacted, the store there was selling 100 of them each week. In the first week after the ban went into effect, Leonard said there were 10,000 reusable bags sold at the Norwalk store.

“We don’t expect that to continue because there’s only a certain amount of renewable bags you need, even if you’re like me and forget to take them with you to the store,” he said.

Leonard said his stores pay 14 cents for every paper bag they purchase. The proceeds from the money that customers pay for paper bags goes to the business, not the state.

Leonard said from a marketing perspective that he is sad to see the plastic bags go. In a quirky display of loyalty to the Norwalk-based chain, tens of thousands of Stew Leonard’s customers have taken plastic bags from the chain to spots around the world and have had pictures of themselves with the bags taken in front of iconic landmarks including the Eiffel Tower.

“You can’t buy that kind of publicity,” Leonard said. “But at the same time, we understand why it’s important to do this. It has become a real movement.”