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Source: Wilton Patch

Business Owners Speak Out Against Plastic Bag Ban

A public hearing held at the Wilton Library mostly features local business owners speaking out against the costs associated with a ban.


Posted: September 21, 2010
Originally Published: September 21, 2010

Retailers and residents gathered at the Wilton Library Monday night to consider a proposed ban on plastic bags at the checkout counter. The consensus was there isn't one.

The Board of Selectmen proposed the ordinance earlier this summer. It would apply to all retail stores, sidewalk sales, farmers' markets, flea markets and restaurants. To give the ordinance teeth, the Director of Environmental Affairs could issue violations, citations, and fines to rule breakers.

"Wilton wants to act responsibly," said First Selectman Bill Brenner during the hearing. "We want to make the right decision."

But for some Wiltonians there isn't a choice.

"The argument is about sustainability," said Bruce Hampson, speaking as member of Wilton's Go Green Committee.

Hampson said that because both paper and plastic bags harm the environment, Wilton should encourage totally reusable bags and do away with the rest.

"It's true paper uses more energy than plastic to recycle, however only two percent of plastic is recycled," Hampson said. "The rest ends up in the Pacific Ocean in an area the size of Texas."

Selectman Ted Hoffstatter said the board wants to reduce the amount of plastic entering the environment and encourage the use of reusable bags for all shopping.

"Our purpose is to hear you, the retailer and the citizens," Hoffstatter said.

Representatives from the town's largest grocery stores addressed the crowd. At Stop & Shop, signs posted in the entrance remind shoppers to bring reusable bags. And recycling bins for bags are stationed at all the store's 550 locations.

Down the road at Caraluzzi's, customers are also encouraged to use cloth bags.

"We are very much for reusable bags," said Mike Caraluzzi, the store's manager. "Basically our concern is replacing plastic with paper."

During the hearing several people pointed out that paper bags also harm the environment, whether it's cutting down trees or manufacturing the bars, or through the energy used to recycle them.

According to the Connecticut Food Association, a trade group representing Connecticut grocers, it takes 91 percent less energy to recycle a pound of plastic compared with a pound of paper.

"Paper or plastic- and suddenly you lose all the trees in the state of Oregon because you don't want plastic," said Brian Perry, who is both the owner of Open House gifts and president of Wilton's Chamber of Commerce.

Westport banned the free give-away of plastic bags at the checkout counter in 2008. As a result a huge percentage of people started bringing their own reusable bags when shopping, according to the non-profit Citizen Campaign for the Environment.

"Plastic bags litter the streets and harm our oceans," said Brittany Ferenz, Connecticut Coordinator for CCE. "We use over 100 billion plastic bags each year in America. The answer is simple, cheap, and easy. BYOB- Bring Your Own Bag. It's something easy that everyone can do to help the environment."

Some local retailers urged the state government to adopt legislation to reduce plastic bag pollution. That would prevent customers from crossing town lines to shop at stores offering plastic bags at the check-out counter, said Peter Keating, manager of Wilton's Village Market.

"The best solution would be to get the state of Connecticut to say: 'You've got to reuse bags or pay dearly for the use of plastic,'" Keating said.

In fact, state Rep. Peggy Reeves (D-143) said the General Assembly will re-introduce legislation to that effect in January.

Keating, Caraluzzi and other grocery store representatives also expressed their concerns over cost, saying that a switch in bagging could cost them as much as $70,000 a year.

Still one attendee professed his penchant for plastic.

"I, for one, love plastic bags," said James Rell of Wilton. "I have nothing against people who use reusable bags, but they become health issue. I, for one, in my household reuse bags. I line trash bins, hang them on my basement door, and clean oily messes with them."

The general consensus at the end of the evening seemed to be that Wilton was better off labeling the initiative as an effort to promote the use of reusable bags, rather than as a ban on paper or plastic. With the relative success Westport has enjoyed (around 50 percent of customers currently bring their own while others pay extra for paper bags), it may well be that Wilton will follow suit.

But the town's grocers remain leery of losing business to surrounding towns in a competitive market by charging for something people are used to getting for free. So, though Monday night's event was only a hearing, they made it clear that if and when the Board of Selectmen does take action, it should be with both the environment and the economy in mind.