Waterford debating plastic bag ban

Andrew Roberts, who joked that he is the bag carrier, stands with a collection of shopping bags while waiting outside a store for his wife and daughter during a shopping spree at Crystal Mall in Waterford on Thursday evening, Nov. 24, 2016. Waterford officials are considering a ban on single-use plastic bags in town, with some worried about what such a move would mean for major retailers like the mall and Walmart.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Andrew Roberts, who joked that he is the bag carrier, stands with a collection of shopping bags while waiting outside a store for his wife and daughter during a shopping spree at Crystal Mall in Waterford on Thursday evening, Nov. 24, 2016. Waterford officials are considering a ban on single-use plastic bags in town, with some worried about what such a move would mean for major retailers like the mall and Walmart. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Waterford — A proposal pushed by the local Green Party would make Waterford the third town in Connecticut to ban single-use plastic bags.

Introduced by Representative Town Meeting member Andrew Frascarelli, the measure would ban the lightweight carryout plastic bags commonly used by retailers and grocers.

The Environmental Protection Agency says the U.S. annually uses more than 380 billion such bags, which are not recyclable through the town's single-stream recycling program. The Green Party claims a ban could reduce the potential for thousands of the bags to wind up in the town's ecosystems and waterways.

This week, the 22-member RTM voted to send the matter to the Public Health, Recreation and Environment Committee later this spring. Some questioned how the ban would be enforced and how it could impact businesses; others debated whether it was worthy of consideration, given other vital issues facing the town.

"I'm not saying it's not an important issue," RTM member Michael Rocchetti said. "But if you look at the number of municipalities addressing this right now, I don't think it's the most pressing matter for this body to be looking at."

Rocchetti and John Appicelli were the only two votes against sending the issue to the committee.

Joshua Steele Kelly said the topic was "all the more important," given that Westport and Greenwich are the only towns that have banned the bags.

"That means there are over 100 other communities that will be creating this plastic waste, that will see plastic waste pollute their waterways and kill their wildlife," Kelly said.

Responding to questions about enforcement from RTM member Michael Perkins, Frascarelli said a $150 fine like Westport's would be appropriate. Member Baird Welch-Collins said enforcement would not require any additional town staff.

RTM member Ivy Plis said that, as a boater, she sees "all sorts of plastic in the water," including bags.

"But the supermarkets and the stores have to make money," she said. "You don't want to penalize businesses. You have to think through how we would do this."

The Green Party says the ban would stear retailers toward offering biodegradable, recyclable or reusable bags at checkout.

Garbage bags and large, thicker bags designated for re-use by some clothing and retail stores would not be banned.

At the town's Stop and Shop, employees declined to comment on a potential ban. But they noted the supermarket sells reusable bags ranging in cost from 10 cents to $1.99. Messages left with Stop and Shop's and Walmart's corporate media teams were not immediately responded to.

Concern over impact in area's 'retail capital'

Jeffrey Wieser, the deputy moderator of Westport's RTM, said chains like Stop and Shop and CVS, along with local downtown stores, have "adopted and respected" the ban approved there about a decade ago.

"The world has not ended," he said. "We have a very vibrant retail market in Westport. We just don't have any plastic bags. It's jarring to receive ones from out of town."

Waterford First Selectman Dan Steward said the environmental "point is well taken." But he questions how the measure would be enforced, and how much enforcement could cost. He's also concerned about the potential impact on businesses in Waterford, which he called "the retail capital of southeastern Connecticut."

"To additionally damage the economic situation in southeastern Connecticut with an additional fee or ban when Crystal Mall, Stop and Shop, Walmart, Lowe's, Home Depot ... are our residents and taxpayers, doesn't seem to be in the best interest of the economy," Steward said. "Part of bringing it to committee is to study it and get an answer."

Diane Herr, a Waterford High School teacher, said polyethylene, the plastic found in single-use plastic bags, was identified as a key source of marine plastics in a 2016 EPA report.

"As a coastal community with interests in keeping the Long Island Sound community as well as the Jordan River watershed clean, a plastic bag ban would be a bold step in addressing the issue of accumulating plastics in our environment," Herr told the RTM.

California banned the bags a couple of years ago, as have cities like Austin and Seattle. Several states have pushed legislation requiring recycling programs and the labeling of plastic bags. Others, including New York City, Washington, D.C., and Portland, Maine, have implemented fees or taxes.

Frascarelli initially proposed a 5-cent tax on the bags, but amended the measure to an outright ban. Several RTM members said a tax would be a logistical hassle requiring state authority.

RTM member Francisco Ribas, a Republican, said eradicating the bags altogether could protect residents from paying any future state-imposed fees on them.

"Other towns are doing it, not just in Connecticut but in other states," Ribas said. "It's enforced in other places, so it can be done."

b.kail@theday.com

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