CONCORD — The House of Representatives Thursday voted to ban single-use plastic bags and force merchants to charge a new fee for consumers to buy recyclable ones.
The bill would ban single-use bags and make retailers charge consumers 10 cents apiece, up to 50 cents per trip, for reusable, recyclable bags made of thicker plastic.
The bill also would ban the use of paper bags except those that are made entirely from recycled paper.
The vote on HB 559 was 205-158.
In a related action, the House also passed a local control measure (HB 102) that would permit cities and towns to adopt their own ordinances on single-use plastic bags.
Both bills now go to the State Senate for its review.
State Rep. Clyde Carson, D-Warner, said these measures would encourage consumers to bring their own thicker plastic bags to the store.
“I think of this as being a BYOB bill (bring your own bag),” Carson quipped.
“A 10-cent fee and not a tax would be retained by the retailer to cover the cost if you didn’t have your own bag. When you think about it, the cost of a bag is built into the cost of whatever you buy.”
Supporters said single-use plastic bags never fully degrade. They also noted many cities and towns have had to stop plastic recycling programs because they are no longer profitable
But Rep. John MacDonald, R-Wolfeboro, said the thickness mandate contained in the bill of 4 mils is twice as thick as the law in California and would be the nation’s most restrictive.
“Plastic bags are 100 percent recyclable, highly reused and the vast majority are made in the US promoting our jobs,” MacDonald said.
Rep. Christy Bartlett, D-Concord, authored the bill to let voters and elected bodies in cities and towns set their own standards.
“I think most of us understand there is a crisis on solid waste in our state. This is a serious problem that affects everyone,” Bartlett said.
“This is only to give a town authority to do what is right for the community.”
California is the only state in the country with a statewide ban on plastic bags.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, however, seven other states have adopted bans that will take effect in the future, including Maine, Vermont and Connecticut.
“More and more states and cities across the country are enacting bans,” said Rep. Laurel Stavis, D-Lebanon.
“A substantial number of retailers and customers welcome these moves.”
But during a hearing last November, John Dumais, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Grocers Association, accused the advocates of political cowardice by trying to make business owners do the government’s dirty work, collecting the 10-cent fee in the name of environmental protection.
“I’m beginning to think that Democrats are trying to turn New Hampshire into the most highly taxed state in New England. A bag tax? That’s what this is,” House Republican Leader Dick Hinch of Merrimack said after the vote.
Curtis Barry of the New Hampshire Retail Association said his members are already taking voluntary steps to reduce the use of these bags but said studies show in places where bans have been adopted, consumers respond with purchases of alternative plastic bags.