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Consider all options to trim plastic pollution

The goal of reducing pollution caused by plastic bags and straws is a good one. The question is how to best achieve this objective.

If people acted more responsibly this would be much less of a problem. While most refuse services do not include plastic shopping bags and straws among the items they recycle, depositing the items properly in the garbage will land them in one of the region’s incinerators. The burning garbage creates steam to spin turbines and produce electricity.

Unfortunately, because of human carelessness or thoughtlessness, thousands of bags end up instead blowing in the breeze, caught in the branches of trees or polluting our waterways.

There is also the argument that plastic bags and straws, because they are made from petroleum, are a foolish waste of a natural, finite resource — oil.

The alternative is using paper bags, a renewable resource, or reusable bags. Paper straws or, in the case of personal use, reusable straws can replace plastic straws.

Bags and straws are only the tip of the plastic pollution iceberg — society uses far more plastic packaging and would benefit by drastically reducing it — but it is a sensible place to start the discussion.

The Stonington Board of Selectmen decided to do just that by voting a week ago to form a task force that will examine a possible ban on the use of plastic bags by retail stores and on plastic straws and containers at restaurants.

We would urge the selectmen to give the task force the latitude to also consider measures short of a ban that would achieve the same objectives. For example, it might be possible, short of an outright ban, to draft incentives that encourage consumers and businesses to avoid single-use bags, plastic straws and other one-use products.

The task force should consider the 3Rs of sustainability — reduce, reuse and recycle. Many consumers repurpose their plastic bags for cleaning up after pets, lining trash cans and for other uses before properly disposing of them. Should the town penalize them with the higher cost of purchasing other disposal merchandise?

Something perhaps few have considered is that having a plastic straw available is critical to some people with disabilities, a point noted in a recent guest commentary. If a ban is recommended, it should probably come with the exception of having plastic straws available for those who need and request them.

Some communities banning the plastic bags have added a consumer fee for the use of paper bags, an effort to encourage consumers to utilize reusable bags.

The task force must report to the selectmen in 90 days, but members will likely need more time than that to sort through the various alternatives.

In Connecticut, Westport passed a single-use plastic bag ban in 2008. Only recently, Greenwich added such a ban. Elected officials in Stanford and Norwalk are also looking at the issue.

Ideally, Connecticut would have a state law in place so that consumer practices, and requirements placed on businesses, do not change as town borders are crossed.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo recognized this when, this past Monday, she formed a “Task Force to Tackle Plastics.” It is charged with suggesting a statewide approach to reducing pollution from single-use shopping bags, straws, balloons and other products. Its work, which could well run in parallel to the research in Stonington, could well be a resource for the Stonington task force.

In Rhode Island the communities of Barrington, Newport, Middletown, Portsmouth, Bristol and Jamestown have enacted bag bans. Block Island included balloons.

California and Hawaii are the only states with bag bans.

We eagerly await the recommendations of the Stonington task force, with its potential to become a model for other communities and potentially the state.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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