ATLANTA — Plastic grocery bags would be banned in Georgia under a Senate bill filed in the 2020 legislative session.

Sponsored by Sen. Donzella James, Senate Bill 280 would prohibit retailers from handing out plastic carryout bags starting next year.

The legislation would exempt several bag styles including plastic wrappers, newspaper sleeves, take-out bags and trash bags.

James, D-Atlanta, said she aims to curb plastic pollution after trying unsuccessfully two decades ago to push legislation calling for Georgia to be a “zero waste” state by this year.

“We want to make an effort to one day, if we can’t have zero waste by 2020, maybe 2030,” James said at a Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee hearing Wednesday.

James said she is open to changing the start date for the ban to 2024. She also said her bill takes aim specifically at grocery bags.

“We didn’t want to just ban all bags. We wanted to start there,” James said. “If we have great success, then maybe the state could consider more.”

Single-use plastic bags that do not biodegrade tend to wind up in environmentally sensitive areas like rivers and streams, endangering wildlife and polluting natural settings.

Environmental group representatives said Wednesday that Georgians discard more than 1 million tons of plastic annually, of which less than 10% is recycled.

Plastic-bag bans have passed recently in states like California, New York and Connecticut, and cities including San Francisco and Austin, Texas. Some large companies like Kroger and Starbucks have also announced policies to phase out plastic bag use in the coming years.

Food retailers in the state support curbing plastic use but are wary of an outright ban that could spur more reliance on other non-recyclable products like garbage bags, said Kathy Kuzava, president of the Georgia Food Industry Association.

She said a better approach might be to encourage more voluntary plastic-reduction policies to help stores transform their customers’ habits on bag use.

“It’s really trying to get the customers used to a change in mentality,” Kuzava said Wednesday. “And I think that’s happening.”

The bill has backing from several environmental groups in Georgia as well as the Millennial Civil Rights Campaign, a social advocacy group led by young adults. Its founder and president, Toas Wynn, said a bag ban would be the next logical step with many stores already phasing out plastics.

“We’re not looking to do something that is completely out of the norm nor has any indications of a trend that is not already taking place,” Taos said.

But Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee Chairman Frank Ginn said he thinks the bill needs some revising before it could move forward.

Ginn, R-Danielsville, singled out the need to clarify whether reused plastic bags could be exempt, such as for cleaning up dog waste.

“Who knows that they’re used for?” Ginn said. “I reuse mine in a lot of different ways.”

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