Groton survey shows 'very high support' for reducing single-use plastics

Groton — A survey initiated by the Conservation Commission found "very strong support" among town residents and businesses to reduce single-use plastics in town, the chairman said this week.

The Conservation Commission had developed the survey to get feedback on whether residents and businesses would support an initiative to reduce single-use plastics, particularly shopping bags and straws, which make their way into the environment. The Town Council had tasked the commission and staff with studying the issue.

The commission on Tuesday presented the Town Council with the results of the survey, which received 483 responses, 14 percent from businesses and the remaining 86 percent from residents.

The survey found that about 63 percent of the businesses said they are "completely committed" to reducing single-use plastics, while about 72 percent of residents said they are "very much" or "completely" committed to reducing single-use plastics, according to the presentation by Commission Chairman Brae Rafferty and Vice Chairman Larry Dunn.

Twenty-three percent of the businesses that responded already do not use single-use plastics, Rafferty said.

However, most residents have not yet made the switch, the survey showed. Rafferty said that's simply because it's so convenient for people when they're presented with single-use plastic bags to carry home their goods from stores, or to use the straws that come with their drinks, for example, if they're not given alternatives.

Rafferty pointed out that people use the plastic shopping bags for about 12 minutes, as they take them from the store to the car to their home, but plastic bags take hundreds of years to degrade. As bags break apart into the environment, organisms consume the particles and microplastics then end up in the food chain.

He also highlighted statistics that the U.S. uses 100 billion plastic bags annually, or 1,500 bags per person each year, and the city of San Francisco found the plastic bags cost businesses 1 cent, but their disposal costs about 17 cents to a municipality.

According to the presentation, 79 percent of the comments received were supportive or an offer to help out or improve the town's existing ordinances for trash, litter and recycling, while 14 percent were negative, for reasons including not wanting government regulation or for business owners to bear the burden. Another 6 percent wanted more information.

Recommendation for an ordinance

The commission recommended the council develop an ordinance to reduce or ban single-use plastic shopping bags and straws; form a working group with residents and local businesses to help develop the ordinance; and design an education outreach program to explain why the town is trying to take up the initiative. The commission also suggested the town consider what neighboring communities are doing to provide consistency to businesses with locations in multiple towns.

The commission proposed the town start with single-use bags and straws and then consider expanding the program to include additional single-use plastics, such as cups.

Tuesday's presentation was met with support from members of the Town Council.

"As a coastal community, we really owe it to the next generation of residents here in town, who are going to be good stewards of our natural resources, to make good to our collective promise here that we’re going to make our community more sustainable," Town Council member Aundre Bumgardner said, adding that the presentation provided a foundation the town can use to move forward with making the community more resilient.

Town Council member Rachael Franco agreed with the presenters that business outreach and education will be key to making the effort successful.

Town Mayor Patrice Granatosky said she felt Groton should take action, but, for the sake of consistency, first closely follow what the neighboring shoreline community of Stonington is doing and consider if that would be acceptable for Groton.

The Town Council on Tuesday directed the town manager and staff to return to the council with suggestions for ordinances and information on what other local communities, including Stonington, are doing.

The Stonington Board of Selectmen voted on Wednesday to send a draft ordinance that bans single-use carryout plastic bags and single-use plastic straws to a town meeting for a vote. If it passes, straws still will be made available to customers upon request, which will provide Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.

Towns such as Westport and Greenwich have banned plastic bags. State legislators have proposed bills in the past to respond to single-use plastics, but they did not make it out of the legislative session, Rafferty said. This year, bills have been introduced to the General Assembly, and Gov. Ned Lamont also proposed a 10-cent tax on plastic bags.

k.drelich@theday.com

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