As Connecticut imposes a 10 cents tax on single-use plastic bags beginning August 1, most of the attention has been on food stores, but the new tax applies more broadly. Stop at your local pharmacy to pick up a prescription along with a few additional items, and that same tax will greet you at the checkout counter.
CVS Health and Walgreens, the nation’s and Connecticut’s largest chains, as well as others in that segment of the retail industry, are also required to impose the tax.
Unlike many grocery stores, however, there won’t be a paper bag alternative. Neither Walgreen’s or CVS have paper bags available for customer purchases in Connecticut, according to the stores. Basically, consumers will have three choices: take the plastic bag and pay the tax, bring a bag into the store that can be used at check-out, or fill your arms with your purchases and juggle them out the store. The goal of the new tax, of course, is to encourage consumers to use re-usable bags.
“Walgreens will comply with the law and charge a fee for single-use shopping bags provided at the point of sale, and will phase in paper bags as required,” a Walgreens representative told CT by the Numbers. Walgreens has no immediate plans to introduce paper bags, according to officials.
At CVS, the choices are much the same. CVS apparently has a paper bag option in some other states, but it does not appear that choice will be coming to Connecticut.
“Starting today, as required by Connecticut law, our stores will charge the required $0.10 bag fee for single-use plastic bags,” said company spokesperson Stephanie Cunha. “We adhere to all local ordinances that ban the free distribution of single-use plastic bags in favor of reusable and/or fee-based options - currently about 15% of our stores are in jurisdictions that ban the free distribution of plastic bags.”
According to the state Department of Revenue Services (DRS), all stores subject to the tax imposition requirement “must indicate the number of single-use plastic checkout bags provided, and the total amount of the fee charged on any transaction receipt provided to a customer.”
"Single-use checkout bag," as defined in the law approved by the state legislature earlier this year, means a plastic bag with a thickness of less than four mils that is provided by a store to a customer at the point of sale.
"Single-use checkout bag" does not include: (A) a paper bag; (B) a reusable plastic bag (four mils or thicker); (C) a bag provided prior to checkout that is used only to contain meat, seafood, loose produce or other unwrapped food items; (D) a newspaper bag; or (E) a laundry or dry cleaning bag, according to the new law.
Numerous varieties of retail stores and restaurants that provide customers with single-use plastic bags must impose the tax. The law is effective August 1, 2019, and is to remain in effect through June 30, 2021, “after which date, single-use plastic checkout bags are scheduled to be banned,” the DRS website explains.
CVS has more than 170 locations in Connecticut, including six in Stamford, Hartford and West Hartford, and five in Waterbury. Walgreens has locations in 70 of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities, with multiple locations in some communities.
Some prominent supermarket chains have elected to drop single-use plastic bags completely, rather than impose the tax on their shoppers. Instead, consumers will see a new cost for paper, which is more expensive to produce than the single-use plastic to which most consumers have become accustomed.
Big Y Foods Inc. announced it will eliminate single-use plastic bags at the checkouts from its more than 80 supermarket locations in Massachusetts and Connecticut on Aug. 1. The company, with more than 80 stores in the two states, has also indicated that for those shoppers who do not bring their own shopping bags beginning in August, a 10-cent charge per paper bag will be added to their bill.
“This fee is in an effort to promote the use of reusable bags instead of paper, which also cause harm to the environment,” a company statement indicated. The stores will offer discounts on reusable bags through the month of August as customers transition away from plastic, according to the company.
A similar step was announced by Stop & Shop. “We know that the environmental impact of plastics is something our customers and communities care about here in Connecticut, so we’re eliminating single-use plastic bags well ahead of the state mandated timeline – and we’re also placing a 10-cent fee on paper bags to encourage our customers to make the switch to reusable,” said Rudy DiPietro, SVP of Operations, Stop & Shop, with 90 Connecticut stores, said recently.
Hawaii, New York and California have banned single-use plastic bags, as have many cities and towns across the country including in Connecticut, but aspects of the laws differ. It has been estimated that the average American family takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year, and that plastic bags are used for an average of 12 minutes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 380 billion plastic bags are used in the United States each year.