The bill authors of BG 7 take on sustainability.

On night one, House Committee 2 continued with a strong debate on the Bluegrass Bill 7. The bill requires that all stores in Kentucky provide reusable bags in place of plastic bags. It explains that the state will provide funding to the individual stores to offer reusable bags, and it provides that customers will pay the unit price of $0.20 for a fabric bag and $0.05 for a paper bag. The bill outlines a set of consequences for disobeying the requirements as well. After the 1st offense the store will receive a warning, after the 2nd and 3rd offenses the store will be fined $50 and $100 respectively, and after the 4th offense the store will be closed. The provisions will be enforced by the Kentucky Department for Environment Protection.

Proponents of the bill argue that it will reduce waste and improve the environment. Section 2 of the bill reflects the sponsors’ research and outlines reasons to reduce plastic waste. These include damage to marine life and ultimately, species extinction. Plastics damage ecosystems and wreak havoc on marine organisms. In addition, these plastics litter streets and neighborhoods. While opponents acknowledge and applaud the bill’s intentions, they point out that production of fabric and paper bags may be more costly and release additional pollutants into the environment. Some opponents also argue that this issue is better dealt with on the federal level as Kentucky does not border an ocean or directly deal with the effects of plastic pollution in the ocean. On the other hand, Kentucky has several major rivers which are subject to similar pollution and could benefit from the passage of this bill.

It’s also worth noting that the bill’s fine of $50-$100 is also insignificant to large corporations and stores which can easily afford to pay it without sacrificing much profit. Thus, these fines alone are not adequate incentives to encourage companies to switch to reusable or paper bags. When talking to the sponsors after debate I learned that they believe that store closure is the primary incentive while the minor fines are simply warnings. Later on in debate, a delegate asked if there was a process for reinstating a business closed after its fourth offense. The sponsors simply responded “yes”, offering no further explanation of this process or any additional penalties. I followed up with them later and they explained that stores would follow a reapplication process to reinstate their businesses. This process would be completed through either a state or local government dependent on the size of the business.

Ultimately, by passing this bill, Kentucky would join the eight other states that have already passed similar legislation requiring reusable or paper bag options. This could pave the way for other states to join in and help reduce plastic waste. It could also make way for future environmental legislation in Kentucky and the nation. The bill will be debated in the Bluegrass House A today, and I wish them luck in their proceedings today.

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