Saying it’s sensible and that the communities around New Canaan are already making the change, a group of residents are asking the town’s legislative body to consider legislation that would ban single-use plastic bags in local shops.
The effort to rid New Canaan stores of the flimsy plastic checkout bags—those less than 12 mils thick (a “mil” is one-thousandth of an inch)—as well as non-recyclable paper bags, truly is an effort to change behavior so that people are bringing reusable bags with them when shopping, according to Amy Murphy Carroll.
Together with New Canaan’s Robin Bates-Mason, Lynn Canaan and Katie Owsley, Murphy Carroll about three months ago established a group calling itself “BYO New Canaan.” The group is seeking to eliminate the use of the thin “T-shirt” bags because they’re “very polluting to the environment,” with implications for waterways and wildlife, as well as costly for municipalities to get rid of, she said. The plastic bags are not recyclable.
“We’re not saying this saves the world, but it’s a step we can all take and feel good about, and we if start using regular bags, they really work way better,” Murphy Carroll told NewCanaaanite.com.
She added: “The reality is, a lot of people have been thinking about [a ban], but nobody has really grabbed ahold of it to move forward.”
“We said, let’s step up and do this, with the idea that many towns around here are doing it. We’ve talked to people on the Town Council and to make this easier, we drafted up some language for a potential ordinance to consider. Our whole goal is to facilitate them [Councilmen] bringing this up because a lot of people are in favor of making a change.”
As it is, New Canaan has no rule regarding retailers’ use of plastic bags—which Murphy Carroll said are used for just 12 minutes on average—though towns including Greenwich, Stamford, Norwalk and Westport have ordinances on the books and Darien is working on one.
Under the proposed ordinance from BYO New Canaan, those not bringing reusable bags with them to a store could be charged 10 cents per recyclable paper bag. Retailers would post signs near checkout notifying patrons of the ordinance, under the proposed language. Failure to comply with the ordinance would merit a verbal warning to a retailer, followed by $150 for a second violation and $250 per violation thereafter, under the proposal.
Bates-Mason said the fee is designed to ensure that the proposed ordinance does not become costly for local merchants, adding that the proposal includes an across-the-board ban so that there’s an equal playing field for all stores.
Tucker Murphy, executive director of the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce, said the organization supports the proposal.
“Every other town is doing it and it’s the right thing to do,” she said. Murphy said the proposed ban is reasonable in that it’s mainly going to affect grocery stores and pharmacies, and doesn’t include produce or dry-cleaning bags. Murphy noted that thicker types of plastic bags that people typically reuse, such as those from Vineyard Vines, are exempt from the proposed ordinance.
“Slow and steady makes sense,” Murphy said.
For some New Canaan merchants, the ordinance will change nothing. For example, Canaan said, Organika Kitchen at Main Street and East Avenue originated in Westport—which in 2008 became the first town in Connecticut to enact a plastic bag ban—and so the vegetarian and vegan foods provider already uses paper bags. Other shops such as Baskin-Robbins readily voiced support for the proposed ordinance, she said.
Murphy Carroll said Councilmen have expressed support and “we are hoping they are going to accelerate” the process by which the ordinance moves from committee to the full Town Council for a vote. The proposal is on the agenda of the legislative body’s Bylaws and Ordinances Committee for a meeting to be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Should New Canaan adopt an ordinance regarding plastic bags, the BYO New Canaan group could oversee some local education “to help people get used to” the change “and make it easier,” Canaan said.
[Note: This article has been updated to clarify that retailers, not shoppers, would face a fine for violating a new ordinance, under the proposal.]