Hamden Moves Closer To Plastic Bag Ban

Source: New Haven Independent

Hamden Moves Closer To Plastic Bag Ban


Posted: January 23, 2019
Originally Published: January 23, 2019

Hamden’s Legislative Council heard comments from the public in support of a plastic bag ban — and none opposed — at a well-attended meeting Tuesday evening. A council committee voted in favor of the proposed ordinance; the full council is set to vote on it Feb. 4.

If enacted, the ordinance would ban businesses from providing single-use plastic bags to customers upon checkout, and would go into effect six months after passage. The council is also considering an ordinance that would require restaurants to ask patrons if they would like single-use plastic straws rather than providing them automatically. 

District 9 Representative Brad Macdowall introduced the idea of the plastic bag ban in July.

“It’s a critical way of trying to be a more environmentally sustainable community,” he told the Independent. “One of the things we need to do is limit and eventually eliminate our use of single use plastic” and “get people to think about the way that they consume.” He said he hopes that the legislation will allow Hamden to be ahead of the curve when it comes to plastic waste.

The ordinance would still allow single-use plastic and paper bags “that are used by consumers inside stores” to package wet items such as produce or meat. It would also allow dry cleaner bags, bags that contain pharmacy prescriptions, and bags that “safeguard public health during the transportation of hospital waste.”

New Haven has also begun debating banning single-use plastic bags at checkout. (Read about that here.) It had a ban years ago, then revoked it.

In addition to helping clean up Hamden’s environment, the ban would save the town money on cleaning up parks and on tipping fees for removal of plastic bags from recycling bins, Councilman Macdowall said. Though they are made of plastic, plastic bags cannot be recycled in single-stream recycling.

The bill was officially introduced to the council at Tuesday’s meeting. It had previously been introduced in the Environment and Conservation Committee. After Tuesday night’s public hearing on the ban, the committee voted with the support of four of six members to advance the ordinance out of committee into the council as a whole. 

During the public hearing, eight people got up to speak in favor of the ban, and no one spoke against it. Citizens and representatives from activist organizations spoke. No one was present representing the business community.

Louis Burch, Connecticut program director for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, was the first to speak. He advocated for both a ban on single use plastic bags and a fee on paper bags. When San Jose introduced that combination of band and fee, the percent of shoppers who brought their own reusable bags shopping shot from 4 percent up to 62 percent.

Plastic bags have also contributed to a solid waste crisis, Burch said. China has stopped accepting contaminated American plastic at its recycling plants. He added that plastic bags cannot be recycled in single-stream recycling anyway because they get tangled up in the equipment. 

Robert Mark, chair of Hamden’s Solid Waste and Recycling Commission, told the council that “the passage of this ordinance will be a step forward.” He used anecdotes to illustrate the ubiquity of abandoned plastic bags in Hamden, describing how he has seen people leave a store, remove one item from a bag, and throw out the bag.

Robert Mark: “Our residents, and the environment, will thank you.”“In the long run, our residents, and the environment, with thank you,” he told the council.

Resident Helen Ward told the council that when she and her husband moved to Hamden from Maine, they were shocked by the plastic waste. As time went on, their habits began to change because they were not surrounded by a culture of conservation. As dedicated as they were to recycling and reducing waste, “we still felt like we were slipping in our behavior,” Ward said.
Annes: What About Business?

After the public hearing, and after the Environment and Conservation Committee had voted to advance the bill, the council made a motion to discuss it.

Eric Annes, who represents District 4, raised the concern that the council had not heard from any Hamden businesses. He said he supports reducing plastic. He said he understands plastic bags are terrible for the environment and would like to eliminate them. But he said he could not vote on the bill “without hearing from everyone that is affected.” He added that he is “quite concerned about moving this too quickly.”

At-Large Rep. Marjorie Bonadies agreed with Annes that the council needs more information. She began by making clear that she is “in favor of reducing all plastic.” Then she asked how the ordinance would be enforced, and what the town would do with the money from fines.

Hamden, she said, is not recycling compliant. If the town can’t recycle properly, how will it manage to enforce this ordinance?

“We are going to add another layer of big government, of more rules that people are not going to follow,” Bonadies said.

Clerk of the Council Kimberly Renta, At-Large Rep. Marjorie Bonadies.Macdowall told the Independent that in the process of drafting the bill, he spoke with many of the town’s stakeholders in order to draft the best legislation possible. He first went to the Chamber of Commerce to talk about how the ordinance would affect businesses. He also discussed it directly with small business owners and with activist organizations.

A number of residents turned out to hear the arguments about the ban or to show their support. Katherine Hinds and Fritz Hansen said they were looking forward to the council’s passing the ordinance. “We’re very aware of garbage, and we know how easy it is to use reusable bags,” said Hinds.

Fritz Hansen and Katherine Hinds.Elizabeth Hayes, a Democratic Town Committee member, said she supports the ban overall. “I am for eliminating plastic bags, but at what cost?” She asked how the ban would affect those who can’t afford to buy bags, and what the alternative would be. Paper?

The ordinance does include a section on paper bags. It specifies that businesses may provide recycled paper bags at checkout. A recycled paper bag “contains no old growth fiber and a minimum of 40% post-consumer recycled content, is 100% recyclable, and has printed in a highly visible manner on the bag the word ‘Reusable’ and ‘Recyclable,’ the name and location of the manufacturer and the percentage of post-consumer recycled content.” Any other paper bag would be off limits, either complimentary or for sale.

The ordinance would still allow single-use plastic and paper bags “that are used by consumers inside stores” to package wet items such as produce or meat. It would also allow dry cleaner bags, bags that contain pharmacy prescriptions, and bags that “safeguard public health during the transportation of hospital waste.”

After the meeting, Macdowall said he is confident that the council will pass legislation on Feb. 4. If it does, Hamden will join Norwalk, Stamford, Greenwich, and Westport in having a ban and/or fee on plastic bags.

Until then, Macdowall plans to seek to assuage the concerns of council members, citizens, and businesses. “The next step is to make sure everyone’s questions are answered,” he said.