By GARRY RAYNO, Distant Dome
CONCORD – In the 1967 movie The Graduate, recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock is trying to find his way in his parents’ world with little empathy or success.
While he is attending a poolside suburban party, Mr. McGuire has some advice for Benjamin.
“I want to say one word to you. Just one word,” Mr. McGuire says.
“Yes sir,” Benjamin responds.
“Plastics.” Mr. McGuire tells him. “There’s a great future in plastics.”
More than 40 years ago plastics may have had a great future, but today plastics are viewed not as a great future, but instead as a great pathway to extinction.
Who has not seen pictures of sea turtles with a plastic six-pack holder around its neck or a plastic straw up its nose?
This week the New Hampshire legislature will have public hearings on four bills that would ban single-use plastics and plastic straws.
This is not the New Hampshire legislature’s first attempt to eliminate plastics from the environment, but to date all have failed.
Rep. Judith Spang, D-Durham, is the prime sponsor of three of the four bills and a sponsor of the fourth. The longtime lawmaker has sponsored bills in past sessions to eliminate plastic bags and straws.
“I’ve encountered people in the parking lot of grocery stores whose shopping cart looks like it’s about to take flight with all of the plastic bags fluttering in it,” she said in a recent Associated Press article.
Banning single-use plastics, which biodegrade slowly if at all, is nothing new.
San Francisco banned plastic bags in 2007 and other cities followed suit. Miami has also had a ban for some time.
About 300 municipalities nationwide have banned plastic bags.
Boston followed suit last year and is in the process of phasing in a total ban on plastics bags over several months.
California, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and American Samoa have banned plastic bags as have 55 countries around the world and another 31 charge a fee.
New Hampshire is not alone is raising the issue this session, as a number of states are acting on similar proposals to ban single-use plastics and plastic straws and not just the more “politically correct” ones.
Legislators in New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Montana, New Jersey and Rhode Island will debate the bans this year.
On the other hand, there are 11 states that preempt municipalities from banning single-use plastics.
Some in the plastics industry believe the 2018 election that put Democrats in control of more State Houses, like New Hampshire’s, may have something to do with all the activity.
“There’s no doubt that there’s an increase in activity at the state level from past years,” Matt Seaholm, executive director of the Washington-based American Progressive Bag Alliance told a plastics trade journal recently. “A lot of that has to do with the election results in some of these states.”
In New Hampshire, if you want to testify either in support or in opposition to the bans before House committees Wednesday, you will need to be in two places at nearly the same time.
The House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee will hold public hearings on two bills to ban single-use bags and plastic straws, while the House Municipal and County Government Committee will hold public hearings on two bills to allow cities and towns to ban plastics bags and straws by ordinance.
House Bill 558, would prohibit food service businesses from providing a plastic straw to customers unless they request one.
The ban would apply to any “restaurant, cafe, delicatessen, coffee shop, supermarket or grocery store, vending truck or cart, food truck, movie theater, or business or institutional cafeteria, including those operated by or on behalf of the state.”
Under the bill, the first and second violations would result in a written notice, but after that the fine would be $25 for each day the business is in violation of the law with a cap of $300 a year.
The Department of Environmental Services and local law enforcement would enforce the proposed law.
The businesses would be required to post notices of the plastic straw policy and provide a telephone number for customers to report violations.
The same fines and requirements would apply to single-use carryout bags from stores and food service businesses.
Under House Bill 560, a single-use bag applies to plastic, paper, or other material provided by a store or food service business to a customer at the point of sale for one-time use to carry groceries or retail goods.
Under the bill, there are exceptions for plastic bags used to carry uncooked meats, poultry, or seafood; laundry bags; chemical or pharmaceutical transport bags, or reusable grocery bags capable of being used 100 times or more.
Stores under the bill would include grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, liquor stores, pharmacies, drug stores, or establishments that have over 1,000 square feet of retail space.
The business would be allowed to distribute its existing inventory of single-use bags, and to sell reusable plastic or recycled paper bags to customers for 10 cents or more, and federal and state social service nutritional programs would be exempt.
Under the bill, cities and towns would be able to develop ordinances with greater restrictions on the use of single-use bags.
The public hearing on HB 558 is scheduled for 11 a.m. in Room 302 of the Legislative Office Building and HB 560 is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. in the same room.
House Bill 102, would allow cities and towns to adopt bylaws to regulate the distribution of single-use plastics, and House Bill 559 would allow cities and towns to prohibit the distribution, sale or purchase of products that contribute to plastic pollution.
Spang has said the municipal ordinance bills will provide a backup in case the statewide bans are defeated.
While no state city or town has yet to ban plastic bags or straws, a number of restaurants have joined the growing trend of not providing plastic straws unless a customer specifically asks for it.
So, forget about the state budget for a little while and instead as Mr. McGuire told Benjamin Braddock 42 years ago, consider “plastics, my son, plastics.”
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London. InDepthNH.org is New Hampshire’s only nonprofit, online news outlet dedicated to holding government accountable and giving voice to marginalized people, places and ideas.