Stonington forms task force to look into banning plastic bags, straws

Stonington — The Board of Selectmen on Wednesday voted to create a task force that will look into banning plastic bags used by retail stores, and straws and takeout containers used by restaurants.

It is possible the selectmen, after receiving additional input from residents, could add more plastic items to the task force’s mission when they meet again in two weeks.

The selectmen took the action after receiving requests from residents Stuart Schwartzstein and Ben Philbrick last month to create an ad hoc committee to best determine how to deal with the problem of plastics in town waters. The idea has gained support on the Stonington Community Forum Facebook page, with residents pointing to a recently implemented ban in South Kingstown, R.I., another shoreline community. Last month the Town Council there banned the use of plastic carryout bags for retail checkout purposes, effective Jan. 1, 2019.

“As a coastal town with two rivers, three harbors and 19 marinas, do we have a special responsibility for what derives from our community and ends up in the water?” First Selectman Rob Simmons asked at Wednesday night’s meeting. “I think we do.”

Simmons, who displayed plastic bags, straws and takeout containers as well as their more environmentally friendly versions at the meeting, also pointed out that the town has 152 food establishments, many of which use plastic bags and straws.

He said that just last year, an estimated 18 billion pounds of plastic ended up in the world’s waters, endangering wildlife.

In two weeks, the selectmen will interview and appoint members to the task force who contact them about their interest in serving. They will include residents as well as members of the business and restaurant community.

Selectwoman Kate Rotella said the town also may want to establish awards for businesses who go “all paper.”

“As a shoreline community, we have to be concerned about this,” she said.

Once members are appointed, the task force will have 90 days to report back to selectmen. The task force’s mission also calls for members to make recommendations on enforcement mechanisms for those who do not comply with the ban.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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