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Source: Wilton Bulletin

Selectmen mull plastic bag ban

BY JOAN LOWNDS

Posted: February 8, 2010
Originally Published: February 8, 2010

Plastic bags may soon flutter out of Wilton’s supermarkets. The Board of Selectmen is considering following the lead of Westport with a ban on plastic bags.

At Monday’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting, Dr. Jonathan Cunitz said Westport’s ordinance was the result of a “grass-roots effort to improve the environment by encouraging reusable bags.” According to Dr. Cunitz, a Westport Representative Town Meeting (RTM) member and management consultant, “Once plastic bags get into the environment, they contaminate it forever. Only 1% to 5% of plastic bags are ever recovered.”

Also, Dr. Cunitz said one trillion plastic bags are used throughout the world each year, and 100 billion in the U.S.

As a result, “a swirling vortex of trash” now sits in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and it’s bigger than the size of Texas, Dr. Cunitz said. The trash stew is 80% plastic and weighs more than 3.5 million tons.

In Wilton, if a plastic bag blows into the Norwalk River or other waterways, “they stay there forever,” Dr. Cunitz said.

According to the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Westport’s plastic bag ban is the first of its kind east of the Mississippi River. So far, the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as Manhattan Beach, Calif., Maui and the Big Island, Hawaii, have approved legislation banning non-biodegradable plastic bags, while Seattle approved a 20-cent tax on all disposable bags. Other cities with plastic bag bans include Mexico City, New Delhi, and several cities in China, Dr. Cunitz said.

In Westport, the ordinance was phased in, allowing businesses a six-month grace period to use up their existing supply of plastic bags. “The ordinance did not cost the town anything,” Dr. Cunitz said. “It was supported by the Westport/Weston Chamber of Commerce and the Westport Downtown Merchants Association.”

The only opponents were “two paid lobbyists from the plastic bag industry,” Dr. Cunitz said.

One of these lobbying groups is the Progressive Bag Affiliates, a division of the American Chemistry Council, which represents chemicals, plastics and chlorine.

The Westport ordinance, which has been in effect since March, allows the town to impose a $150 fine per day for a maximum of seven days on businesses that distribute plastic bags, with some exceptions including those for produce. After that, the town may pursue legal action. However, there have been no enforcement actions or legal challenges, Dr. Cunitz said.

Dr. Cunitz and other members of Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) received the 2009 Environmental Merit Award from the Environmental Protection Agency New England for their efforts with the plastic bag ban in retail use. The ordinance was supported by U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4).

First Selectman William Brennan said Westport has “done a very thorough job on this. It is a success story with our next door neighbor, and Wilton is moving in this direction.”

Selectman Richard Creeth said the ordinance “seems like a no-brainer, and a great thing to do. It is one small step in the direction of sustainable living, and an easy one to take.”