Local Group Proposes Banning Thin Plastic Bags from New Canaan Stores


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.]

10 thoughts on “Local Group Proposes Banning Thin Plastic Bags from New Canaan Stores

  1. When you bring home a bag of groceries from the supermarket you will notice that, unless it is largely fresh produce, the contents of that bag contain far more disposables such as various synthetics (plastics, etc.), glass, paper, cardboard that must be disposed of, than are represented by the “plastic” (or paper) bag in which they were all transported. Some of these containers are recyclable and some are not. BTW I just looked at a plastic bag from ACME and it is clearly marked as recyclable “2”. These bags decompose, the construction of them was reformulated many years ago to do so. The statement that these bags are not recyclable is misleading.
    As respects litter, I have volunteered in Clean -a-Mile for many years and know that only a tiny amount of the waste that is collected from our roadsides is these bags. Hardly measurable by either quantity or weight. Maybe we should sell beer on a bring your own container basis too.
    Reusable bags, on the other hand, are problematic for a few reasons: 1) If you are doing a large shopping trip you would need several of them and this could be unwieldy especially for older people, 2) They are potentially unsanitary after repeated usage, 3) the cost is being pushed from the store to the customer (Stores will love this new profit center and reduced responsibility), 4) It discriminates – some states must do it while others do not. Who decides, who enforces? 5) Do we really want to have yet another ordinance threatening residents with large fines and who exactly will enforce this? Maybe it would be better to ask shops to voluntarily encourage customers to not request a bag for small purchases. I do that all the time.
    This is one bandwagon we should not be eager to jump on. We have plenty of other issues to tackle,

    • Thanks Mike, just to address a couple of your comments here: First, these bags are not to be included in recycling material brought to the Transfer Station. You are correct that they are “recyclable” in that the state urges residents to bring them back to participating grocers, though I do know who does that. Secondly, the fines to be proposed are not for residents but for retailers who are in violation—I’ll clarify that in the article now. Thanks.

  2. In the category of unintended consequences what will we use to clean up our dog waste? We’ve always repurposed those store bags. Will plastic bags also been banned at the town parks?

  3. I am one of the persons who brings back plastic bags to the retailer. I store them in a large canvas bag, and when that bag is full, I simply take it to a retailer who collects bags. The bags can be from any retailer, and I also recycle other plastic wrappings (that have a recycle number on the wrapping). This includes plastic that surrounds paper towels, flats of soft drinks, etc. Most of the stores (Acme, Stop and Shop, Walmart to name a few) have the place to recycle right inside the front door. After my canvas bag is empty, I use it for the new items I buy, but if I have more things than fit into that bag, I use plastic bags, and the process is repeated. It is a practical way to be green.

  4. If towns ban plastic bags, I’ll have to start buying garbage bags. My family has always used the grocery bags for our garbage. How will that save plastic or plastic waste?

    Perhaps we should rethink recycling. We’ve recently discovered that much of our garbage has been shipped to China and they don’t want it anymore. Costs of processing our recycling are consequently skyrocketing. People meant well and mean well when recycling, but the materials we’re recycling have never been in short supply. It’s taken a lot of work over the years to create such markets as there are for recycled resources. Manufacturers generally prefer to use virgin resources; the cost isn’t that different and the quality of the resulting product is better. Perhaps we should bury certain materials, such as metals, in a designated area of each landfill so that if that resource ever becomes scarce, people will know where to mine it. Paper comes from renewable resources; foresters grow trees like a crop; it’s not in short supply. Plastic comes from oil, despite how inexpensive it is; can it be burned as fuel in a waste recovery plant? Buried?

    We used to be told that plastic doesn’t decompose, will be there for 100 or more years. I don’t find that to be true anymore. Looks like plastic manufacturers have changed their formulations. Any plastic items I’ve bought from the 1970s on degrade in a few years. Built-in obsolescence. A few years ago I needed some plastic garbage bags for storage, went to the boxes we stock on our shelf (unused, since we use grocery bags), and the contents of all but one box crumbled in my hands.

    The paper grocery bag industry almost died out many years ago, but was saved by a law requiring grocery stores to offer customers a choice of paper or plastic. Most people still preferred plastic bags. They’re cheaper and better. The paper bag industry suffered anyway. So now we’re supposed to switch to paper for the environment. But the fact that plastic bags are cheaper should tell us something about how many resources are needed to make plastic vs. paper bags, and the value of those resources.

    Recently, a news item posted on the internet was a map a researcher had made showing where the plastic waste in the oceans is coming from. The vast majority of the waste is coming from Asia – China, Southeast Asia, and India. A little comes from the coast of Mexico. Almost none comes from North America or Europe. Will our banning plastic bags (or straws) help?

    I’m all for the environment, but over the years I’ve seen many ideas go viral about what we’re supposed to do or not do, to be debunked later. Remember when the Sip-It juice boxes (aseptic cardboard boxes) were introduced? We were supposed to boycott them for environmental reasons. After a while, someone did a different calculation and discovered they actually use fewer resources than transporting juice in heavy glass bottles. Remember the diaper craze? Parents were supposed to stop using disposable diapers and switch back to cloth diapers. After a few years, someone calculated that washing all those cloth diapers resulted in using more resources than disposable diapers. Parents breathed a sigh of relief. These ideas sound good intuitively, but sometimes we need more science. Now we’re supposed to stop using disposable plastic. Maybe we should think a bit more broadly about that.

  5. Gluttonous over-consumption is at the heart of many of our social problems; so while these significant though somewhat superficial issues are being focused on, what about the much larger issues of unsustainable development, spending and wastefulness, weakening regulations and indifference to the good citizen mandate of reporting wanton abuse by a significant percentage of the population? I try to bring the Trader Joes $1 bags when buying groceries but I see that as a small and relatively insignificant part of responsible consumerism. The Europeans have been devoted to thrift and ecological living for years; how long will it take for us to wake up to more responsible living standards as if the well over 7 billion other people on the planet really mattered?

  6. How about banning the plastic in which restaurants put ones leftovers? Those are not recyclable. Tin or waxed cardboard boxes (like the ones Whole Food uses for their salad bar) could be used instead. And how about banning plastic straws?? I’m all for cutting all the plastic we can!!!

  7. At the risk of sounding crazy, I think the case is easily made that single-use plastic doesn’t really “help” the environment that much.

    If anything, studies show unanimously that the absence of single-use plastic is always good news for rivers, storm drains and landfills.

    Are plastic bags convenient? Most certainly. If someone likes using them a lot, will they have to adjust to living without them? Of course. Will that adjustment be the hardest thing in the world? Hopefully not, and most likely no more than when the world switched from styrofoam cups to paper ones.

    Many cities in the U.S. have banned them in the past several years, and a couple states. Somewhat embarrassingly, pretty much the rest of the entire world is ahead of the U.S. on this issue, banning it, partially banning it and/or taxing it in most of Europe, South America and all of China.

    Whether you care about the environment or not, the facts are that single-use plastic has a very short lifespan for what it’s intended for (taking groceries home, etc.,) and a very long lifespan for properly getting rid of it.

    And that part takes a lot of resources (read : money and labor) for collecting, cleaning, processing and disposing. Resources that could go to a zillion other things.

    There is a lot of data out there supporting the idea of banning single-use plastic. Here is some that’s hopefully helpful :

    Since banning single-use plastic in 2012, San Jose, CA has seen an 89% reduction in plastic bags in storm drains, a 60% reduction in creeks and rivers, and a 59% drop in residential plastic waste.

    Similarly, Seattle has seen a 48% drop in residential plastic bag waste, and a 76% decline in commercial plastic bag waste since their ban in 2012.

    And state-wide, California has seen a 70% decrease in plastic bags as coastal garbage.

    And, for what it’s worth, New York state is looking to ban them as well in the coming year.

    Let’s do the right thing and join the right side of history on this one. Please.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *