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Should cities and towns be able to ban plastic bags without approval from the state?

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Twice in the past, the Portsmouth City Council has voted to ban the use of plastic shopping bags. But the city can’t carry out the ban because the state Legislature won’t allow them to do so.

That’s because New Hampshire is not among the 32 states with what’s called “home rule”—which allows cities and towns to adopt any policy so long as it is not forbidden in state law. Instead, New Hampshire law only allows cities and towns to take local actions, such as a plastic bag ban, if the Legislature passes legislation specifically granting them that power.

On the issue of banning plastic bags, the Legislature has consistently said no.

In the 2016 and 2017 legislative sessions, bills were introduced to give communities permission to adopt bylaws to regulate the distribution of certain plastic bags. Both were killed.

No legislation relative to plastic bags has been filed in the current session.

Arguments for local bag bans

Proponents of the granting towns the power to ban plastic bags say discarded bags, in addition to being unsightly, are often eaten by animals such as fish and eventually end up in human food, which can make people sick. The California Coastal Commission cited data that during an annual cleanup of beaches and riverbanks, 7.4 percent of all the items of trash collected were plastic bags.

Others argue that the residents of a city or town should have the right to make rules in their own community, without getting an okay from Concord first.

Arguments against local bag bans

In 2016, then state Sen. Nancy Stiles (R-Hampton) pointed out that the ban would create confusion if one town had it and the neighboring one did not.

Opponents of letting communities ban bags also say it does little to protect the environment. They note that manufacturing single-use plastic bags creates a smaller carbon footprint than the production of single-use paper bags, single-use plastic bags can be recycled at many grocery stores, and they are more sanitary than reusable bags.

What do you think? Should New Hampshire cities and towns be able to ban plastic bags without legislative approval? Let us know in the comments section below.


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