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Source: Wilton Bulletin

Plastic or paper? Retailers tell selectmen to bag both

BY JOAN LOWNDS

Posted: September 27, 2010
Originally Published: September 26, 2010

Peter Keating, owner of the Village Market, says shoppers should be encouraged to bring reusables.

Neither plastic or paper bags carried any weight with local grocery store managers at an informational hearing Tuesday on the Board of Selectman’s consideration of a reusable bag proposal. Instead, the consensus was that customers should learn to shop with reusable bags.

“Converting from plastic to paper is not a home run for the environment,” said Peter Keating, owner of the Village Market. The hearing, which was held to obtain input from local retailers, drew a crowd of approximately 50 people to the Wilton Library’s Brubeck Room.

Mr. Keating also said customers routinely choose plastic bags and if Wilton enacts an ordinance banning plastic bags, customers will go elsewhere. “We already see a migration,” he said.

Mark Caraluzzi, manager of Caraluzzi’s Market, echoed these sentiments, saying that if plastic bags are banned, he expects the cost for paper bags to spike by $50,000 to $60,000 a year, because paper bags are three times more expensive.”

“We are very much for reusable bags,” he said. “The goal should be to eliminate all non-renewables.”

Similarly, Peter Jahnige, district director of Stop & Shop, said, “In this competitive retail environment, voluntary reusable bag programs should be looked at.” He said Stop & Shop strongly encourages the use of reusables in its stores.

Stan Sorkin, president of the Connecticut Food Association, said paper bags are not necessarily more environmentally friendly. “It takes 91% less energy to recycle a pound of plastic versus a pound of paper,” he said.

However, Selectman Ted Hoffstatter, the Board of Selectmen’s project manager on the issue, said the goal is to “encourage the use of reusables and not simply have merchants furnish paper instead of plastic.”

Mr. Hoffstatter said more than one billion plastic bags are used in the U.S. each year, and only one to 2% of these can be recycled. As a result, plastic ends up in the environment, and has created an accumulation of plastic bags, bottles, toys, packaging and trash, swirling in a whirlpool in the North Pacific known as the Great Pacific Garbage.

The floating junkyard is 80% plastic and weighs more than 3.5 million tons, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, on its Web site.

Residents of Westport, where an ordinance to ban the use of plastic bags was passed on Sept. 2, 2008, said the ban has caused shoppers to bring reusable bags. According to a survey conducted by David Brown, 53% of shoppers used reusables and 45% used paper in May 2010, at Westport’s Stop & Shop. By contrast, at both the Norwalk and Wilton Stop & Shop stores, only 10% of the bags used were reusable and 86% were plastic.

“We’ve had a lot of success,” said Dr. Jonathan Cunitz, a member of the Westport Representative Town Meeting, who was instrumental in the passage of the ban in his town. If Wilton passes a similar ordinance, “it will be a stand-out initiative, for the whole country to take notice.”

Wiltonian Bruce Hampson, a founding member of Wilton’s Energy Commission, described a plastic bag as “an iconic symbol of environmental degradation ... It is nonsense to use plastic bags. The argument is not paper versus plastic, it is an argument for sustainability and an investment in a sustainable future.”

Brittany Ferenz, representing the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said Westport’s ban on plastic bags “is a successful model that has received nationaland international news coverage and is resulting in positive environmental benefits ... We strongly urge the Wilton Board of Selectmen to act swiftly to pass an ordinance that will reduce plastic bag solution.”

State Rep. Peggy Reeves said the state legislature may soon reintroduce a bill at the state level that could possibly enact a tax on non-reusable bags.

First Selectman William Brennan said the issue is complex and the selectmen will continue to obtain more information and then “decide what is best for Wilton and how to get people moving toward the idea of using reusables.”