Saying it’s punitive, unnecessary and unsanitary and represents government overreach, some New Canaan residents are voicing opposition to a proposed ban on thin plastic bags at local shops.
Though members of New Canaan’s legislative body say most constituents who have lodged their opinions in formal letters are in favor a single-use plastic bag ban, others have been critical of the proposal.
Jeanne Russo in a letter to the Town Council said that such bans often have “unintended negative results.”
“Expecting senior citizens or lower income families to buy reusable bags, so some in our community can feel good about themselves by ‘doing their part,’ is unfair and wrong,” Russo wrote. “You represent all members in our community, not just the ones with loud voices.”
Town resident Nicole Busby said that while she’s in favor of people bringing reusable bags with them to local shops, she’s opposed to an outright ban on plastic bags because “it’s an overreach of government.”
Scott Hobbs in a letter to the Council said that while single-use plastic bags may seem wasteful, “they are all sanitary.”
“Recycled bags frequently get contaminated from use with food and most people do not properly maintain them,” he said. “In addition, if you look at the chemicals, water and time involved in properly maintaining the reusable bags, it is likely that they cost more and are at least closer to as harmful to the environment. Please do not pass such a resolution.”
The comments come as the Town Council Bylaws and Ordinance Committee considers draft legislation (see it here in full) that would prohibit retailers from supplying double-handled carryout bags to customers. Under the proposal, customers would be able to use any type of bag they want so long as they bring it in themselves, and the ban would not include the clear spinning bags that patrons of grocery stores, for example, use to gather up produce or to help contain packaged poultry. Instead, the proposal says, retailers would only offer 100 percent recyclable bags, charging up to 10 cents for them.
Advocates for the change, which has been discussed in town for years and is being brought forward now by a local group calling itself “BYO New Canaan,” say the ban is sensible and in line with resolutions already in place in nearby towns, and also that it will eliminate litter.
One member of BYO New Canaan, Robin Bates Mason, said she often participates int eh town’s annual “Clean Your Mile” and waterway cleanups in town, and that she’s “always shocked by the amount of garbage I find, particularly plastic bags.”
“I don’t think people are aware of the detrimental impact these bags are having on not just our oceans but our local environment and beauty of our town,” she said. “I reached out recently to Dr. Mel Sorcher of Westport who was instrumental in their plastic bag ban. I asked him if he noticed a difference in Westport after the ban went into effect. This is what he said: ‘What is clear in Westport is that there are not any empty plastic bags flying around in the wind any more or evident in the roads as street trash.’ ”
The Town Council’s Bylaws and Ordinances Committee is scheduled to take up the draft legislation at a meeting to be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Town Hall. The Committee is expected to make a recommendation to the full Town Council, which would then take up a formal discussion and possible vote on the proposal at a future meeting.
Councilman Steve Karl, a co-chair of the Committee, said its members “want to have as much community input as possible and we want it to be a broad-based discussion that brings in not only the business community, but the end users of the bags.”
“And those are the folks that shop every day and use the bags in their daily lives and we do not want to make a decision locally that overreaches,” Karl said. “But in looking at other towns around us and some areas that have put in similar laws, our subcommittee has really studied this issue extensively and we believe that New Canaan should be doing as much as we can to support environmental issues and we also look at it from cost perspective. We have heard from [Public Works Director] Tiger Mann about the cost of recycling increasing and some of savings netted, and right now the Council is on a mission to save every dollar we can.”
Under the proposal, the New Canaan health director or her designee would enforce the ban, and retailers found to be in violation could be issued a written warning for a first violation, $150 for a second and $250 for each subsequent violation. Retailers would be penalized just once per 24-hour period, under the proposal.
Karl said the Committee has been careful in creating the proposed legislation that it would not harm business owners.
“And I do not think anyone in town that has visited one of our parks or gone up to New Canaan High School hasn’t seen one of these bags blowing around in a breeze or stuck in a fence somewhere, and there is certainly room for improvement in terms of these bags,” he said. “You have to admit it is not like they are not out there.”
New Canaan’s Caroline Brokaw Tucker said in a letter to the Council that she “absolutely” supports the proposed ban on thin plastic bags.
“They are completely unnecessary and this is an easy challenge to address,” said Brokaw Tucker, who also noted that she’s been kept reusable bags in her car for 15 years.
“Other changes we need to consider to protect our environment and planet are going to be much more challenging so why waste time debating this easy one?” she said. “Just ban them and let’s move on to the hard choices.”
Town resident Julia Bossidy asked the Council to “please consider the ban of single use bags.”
“They are not good for the environment,” Bossidy wrote in her letter. “We as a community can work together to reduce our carbon footprint. Banning the bags will be a good first step.”
Susie Caitlin, a town resident for most of her life, said she is “in complete support” fo the proposed ordinance.
“ I have made a conscious effort over the past few years to use reusable bags whenever possible and it is my hope that more people will follow suit to help eliminate this pesky pollutant,” Caitlin said. “I applaud the other neighboring towns which have banned the use of plastic bags in an effort to become more environmentally conscious both locally and globally.”