Eight states across the country have banned single-use plastic bags. A bill under consideration by the state legislature could make Georgia one of the next to do so.
Supporters of the legislation spoke in front of the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee on Wednesday.
Jesse Demonbreun-Chapman, executive director with the Coosa River Basin Initiative, said his group is fully behind Senate Bill 280.
“We certainly don’t believe this is a fix-all for every source of waste that ends up in our waterways,” he said. “I can attest that the blight of loose plastic bags is a significant one.”
Chapman said he believes it’s time for Georgia to act.
“The grocers themselves are often looking at this as a big enough problem that they are setting voluntary target phase-out dates,” Chapman added. “So, we’re not stepping out on a limb.”
The legislation’s sponsor is state Sen. Donzella James, an Atlanta Democrat.
“Right now it’s cluttering the waste stream; it’s poisoning the wildlife. Our fish are being choked and dying,” said James, who noted that the waste from plastic bags can eventually wind up in the food and water that humans consume.
“This is just an effort to make us healthier and to have a safe and clean environment.”
The bill makes exemptions for plastic bags that are used to contain food items such as uncooked meat, fish or poultry or bulk items like fruit, vegetables, grains or candy. It also exempts bags used for newspaper delivery, garment bags, trash bags or pharmacy bags, among others.
As originally written, the bill would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021. But James said she’s willing to push back the effective date of the bill by several years to allow retailers to be ready.
“If we can pass this, it’ll put it on their minds, and they can start working towards it, and hopefully, they will succeed in 2021 instead of 2025,” James said.
Kroger has announced plans to phase out single-use plastic bags by the year 2025. Sen. Matt Brass, a Republican from Newnan, asked James about the delayed implementation.
“I’d be more likely to support this,” Brass said of a 2025 start date. “If they’re [Kroger] already making business plans, I think we should honor that.”
Committee Chairman Frank Ginn, a Republican from Danielsville, urged Sen. James to define “single-use” more clearly in the legislation. He noted that retail stores could argue that the plastic bag they stuff with items at the checkout counter could later be used by the customer for other purposes.
Kathy Kuzava is with the Georgia Food Industry Association, which represents grocery stores in the state. While Kuzava said she’s committed to working with James and legislators as the bill moves through the process, she did express some reservations.
“What I do have some concern about the bill is that it’s just an absolute stop on the plastic bags,” she said. “And where are we going to go from there?”
Kuzava noted that many grocery stores offer recycling bins for customers to dispose of their plastic bags. She also said stores offer paper bags as an alternative and have reusable bags for purchase.
It’s not clear when or if the committee will vote on the bill.