The House Committee on Commerce and Tourism adopted yesterday the bill pushing for a fee for every single-use plastic bag provided to customers by retailers in the CNMI. The fee, originally pegged at a dollar per bag, has been amended and reduced to 10 cents.
Introduced by Rep. Sheila Babauta (D-Saipan), the Eco-Friendly Act of 2021 (House Bill 22-56) intends to discourage the use of non-compostable plastic bags, and encourage the use of reusable bags in the CNMI, by imposing a fee that sellers must collect.
This applies to retail businesses, including restaurants, office supply stores and basically all sellers that issue plastic bags upon checkout.
“The fee per plastic bag was reduced to 10 cents per bag, regardless of size and the enforcement agency was changed to the Division of Revenue and Tax, since they already visit stores for enforcement purposes,” Babauta said, in reference to the amendments to the bill.
“Once this bill becomes law, sellers and consumers will have 30 days before the fee is assessed. After one year of having this option to purchase plastic bags, sellers will no longer be allowed to import, sell or distribute single-use plastic checkout bags.”
According to Babauta, the CNMI is falling behind in its commitment to address single-use plastic bags, and may even be the last Pacific island community to do so. Guam, Samoa, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and many other places have already implemented either a fee or an outright ban on single-use plastics, she said.
“The United Nations Climate Change Conference recognized the Pacific Islands in leading the way to banning single-use plastic. We want to show our brothers and sisters in the Pacific, and throughout the world, that we are committed to climate justice and support environmental health,” Babauta said.
Once enacted, sellers aside will not only collect the fee but will also have to provide a monthly report on the collection and actual costs incurred to the Department of Finance, and its Division of Revenue and Taxation would be the enforcement arm. The division may also conduct inspections without prior notice during the sellers’ regular business hours.
Failure to comply constitutes a fine of $1,000 for the first violation, per seller per day; $1,500 for second violation, per seller per day; and $2,500 for any subsequent violations, per seller per day.
In addition, the bill, once enacted, would also ban the importation, sale, or distribution of any single-use plastic bag to consumers a year from its effectivity.
“I believe this movement to reduce single-use plastic bag pollution is in the best interest of the CNMI. We already have consumers using reusable bags to shop and would pay the small fee, if necessary,” Babauta said. “I understand the transition may be challenging, but I believe going through that discomfort will lead us to a brighter CNMI—modeling responsible stewardship of our environment and sustainable practices to our children and grandchildren.”