HARTFORD (AP) - Connecticut retailers of all types are getting ready to charge a new 10-cent tax on single-use plastic bags, changing how many consumers will carry home groceries or a take-out meal.
Proponents of the legislation, including the Connecticut Food Association and environmentalists, hope the tax will ultimately lead to fewer single-use plastic bags littering the environment. Under the new law, the tax will be charged from Aug. 1, 2019 to June 30, 2021. After that time, retailers will be prohibited from providing or selling single-use checkout bags to customers.
But there's some concern that stores may not be able to meet the anticipated dramatic demand for reusable bags once the new tax takes effect on Aug. 1. The executive director of the Connecticut Food Association said he expects stores will need at least an extra 30 days to amass an adequate supply.
"We could have used a little more time to prepare," said Wayne Pesce, adding that the new bag tax "is going to be a sea change" for consumers. He said retailers don't have a clear understanding of how many reusable bags they may need. Some thicker, multi-use plastic bags used by stores - which have also drawn criticism from some environmentalists - are produced in China. The tax will be applied to plastic bags with a thickness of less than four mils or four thousandths of an inch.
Pesce said many stores are also making signs to notify customers of the new tax. While about 10 Connecticut communities have local plastic bag fees or bans already in place, many consumers in the state are unfamiliar with the concept, he said.
"The state passes the law and we get to tell people," he said. "We're there. We're on the ground."
Department of Revenue Services Commissioner Scott Jackson said he's been impressed by how retailers are preparing for the new tax. He remains optimistic it won't slow things down at the check-out counter for customers, so long as they're aware of the change.
"This has certainly escaped the attention of a lot of consumers," he acknowledged. "That first Saturday in August, there's a chance for some confusion among consumers who haven't been paying attention to this."
DRS has been trying to get the word out about the new levy. When retailers filed their June sales tax returns online, a reminder about the plastic bag tax automatically popped up. The agency's Office of Commissioner Guidance , which provides businesses and individuals with details about tax changes, plans soon to post information online about executing the new plastic bag tax.
The Connecticut Food Association estimates about 700 million single-use plastic bags are distributed each year in Connecticut. Pesce said this legislation is expected to reduce that amount by 80%; other locations that implemented such a fee saw a similar reduction after about five-to-eight weeks.
The tax is projected to generate $27.7 million in the current fiscal year and $26.8 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2020. The revenue will be deposited into the state's main spending account, the general fund. Some legislative Republicans have complained it will be yet another expense for Connecticut taxpayers to shoulder.
Plastic bags provided by stores to hold meat, seafood, loose produce or unwrapped food items, as well as newspaper bags and dry cleaning bags, are exempt from the new law. Additionally, the new law allows stores to charge customers a fee to obtain a single-use paper bag, which are most costly for retailers to provide than single-use plastic bags.
Lawmakers this year were unable to pass legislation aimed at reducing the waste stream, including bans on plastic straws, single-use polystyrene food containers and polystyrene lunch trays at schools.