The biggest thing since redeemable bottles

First, do no harm.

The familiar words of the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, while not, as often supposed, excerpted verbatim from an oath taken by new medical doctors, have come to symbolize the prudence a wise person should exercise in tackling a harmful situation. It's not only physicians who must decide whether a possible remedy is better than doing nothing.

The Day agrees with the voters of Stonington that even though a one-town ban on plastic straws and bags won't clean up the world's oceans, it is worth doing. We agree, too, with the Waterford Department of Public Works that if there is a safer way to control weeds than leaching questionable chemicals into waterways, do it.

With these recent decisions the two towns have taken further steps as leaders among southeastern Connecticut communities to be gentler on the environment and, at the least, do less harm.

Waterford's Public Works Department announced recently that it will forgo use of Roundup this year. The popular weedkiller is based on the chemical glyphosate. Monsanto, the international agrichemical conglomerate and manufacturer of Roundup, has become the target of lawsuits charging that glyphosate is a carcinogen, although the debate about whether the chemical causes cancer continues.

Stonington voters at a town meeting Thursday overwhelmingly approved the recommendation of the town's Plastic Bags and Straws Ad Hoc Committee. Waterford, which is home to a large percentage of the region's retail stores and also has an active Green Party, has also had discussions about alternatives to single-use plastic bags.

With its vote to prohibit retailers from providing single-use plastic bags and to allow plastic straws only by special request, Stonington joins 25 towns already regulating nonrecyclable consumer plastic. Even better would be for the legislature to pass and the governor to sign a bill before the General Assembly that would standardize restrictions throughout the state, as New York has now done.

Senate bill 1003 would force stores to provide only single-use carryout bags made of 100 percent recyclable paper containing at least 40 percent previously recycled material. The bags would have to "conspicuously display ... 'Please Reuse and Recycle This Bag.'" Violators could be fined $250 after an initial warning. The bill, along with one regulating plastic straws, has passed the assembly's Environment Committee.

The Connecticut Food Association, a group representing 300 retail food stores and 135 pharmacies, favors a statewide solution over the differing provisions in municipal ordinances. That seems not only more workable but more likely to keep an even playing field between a supermarket in East Lyme, say, and one in Groton.

An ordinance such as Stonington's could stand so long as it is "as restrictive" or even tougher than the proposed law. Trash bags, bags without handles designed for newspapers and clothing, and bags provided by pharmacies to customers buying prescription medications are among exclusions from the ban. Stonington has similar exceptions in its new rules.

As for those newspaper bags, used to protect your newspaper during delivery, we trust that the vast majority of our readers dispose of them properly. We also note their effective reuse by some to pick up after Fido when he makes a delivery.

Shoreline towns have extra reason to avoid chemicals and materials that can harm life in coastal waters, but every town has rivers, ponds or brooks where groundwater leaches in and plastic bags wash up on rocks or dangle from branches. The goal of whatever law is enacted should be to do as little harm to the environment and to creatures as possible. Following that logic, The Day disagrees with Gov. Ned Lamont's budget proposal for a 10-cent tax on single-use plastic bags. The state needs fewer bags much more than it needs those particular dimes. Besides, there are savings to be had in reducing the amount of waste that must be collected and processed. Go for those savings instead.

This could be the biggest thing since redeemable bottles and cans, which no longer litter Connecticut roadways in the volume they once did. And that is a measurable effect of doing less harm. 

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, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman 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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