Groton sees support for plastic bag and straw ban at public hearing

Groton - Those speaking Tuesday night at a public hearing on the Town of Groton’s proposed Single Use Plastic and Polystyrene Regulations were largely in favor of the ban, with only two of 21 people speaking against.

The Town of Groton Economic Development Commission also hosted a forum on Monday night specifically to get feedback from the business community, and more than 70 people attended.

The proposed ordinance prohibits business or food service establishments from providing plastic carryout bags, straws or stirrers, and from serving or distributing food on a polystyrene product, such as Styrofoam.

The straw ban does not apply to “consumers with a disability or other impairment requiring the use of plastic straws,” who may request plastic straws.

The ordinance does not apply to bags for bulk items such as produce or nuts, bags used for prescription drugs, dry-cleaning bags, newspaper bags, plastic cutlery, or foods that come to a store or restaurant prepackaged in polystyrene, such as seafood or meat. The ordinance also does not include the City of Groton or Groton Long Point.

The town council did not vote on the ordinance Tuesday night.

Supporting the measure, Groton resident Eugenia Villagra, of Groton Conservation Advocates, cited microplastics ingested by marine life, microplastics in table salt, and the ugliness of plastic bags hanging in trees.

Cindy Fortner said in her native California, a plastic bag ban has been a part of life for many years, and adjustments were made, and now this norm is easy. Roger Kuhns sees “a really great opportunity for new business growth in sustainable products in the Groton area.”

Responding to people saying the town council shouldn’t further regulate the public, Zell Steever said it’s “always cheaper to prevent the problem from happening than to try to clean up the problem after happening.” 

Representative Town Meeting member-elect Albert Colon, 20, commented, “I think that this plastics ban is an amazing idea and something that Groton probably should’ve done years ago.”

Some of those speaking in favor were not Groton residents, such as two members of the Stonington Plastic Bags and Straws Ad Hoc Committee and the director of the Plastics Project for Environment and Human Health Inc.

Concerns raised at business forum Monday night 

When Paul’s Pasta Shop owner Paul Fidrych got up to talk Monday night, he approached a table and picked out 26 items from a box, such as a plastic lid, lobster bib, pint containers, plastic trays and cutlery. He asked, to laughs, if officials could veto them.

But Conservation Commission member Kristen Distante commented that “if it’s recyclable, it’s not banned.” Town planner Bruce Lofgren added, “Nothing I’m seeing here would be regulated.” 

Fidrych said he gave up using Styrofoam 20 years ago, meaning this was easy enough for him. But others were not so easily reassured.

Ashley Couto-Tewell, a Dunkin’ franchisee with six locations, said the ban would result in a 394 percent increase in price per straw, a figure she updated to 550 percent Tuesday after making another call. 

As a franchisee, she orders the products, not Dunkin’. She has not found a good solution with a paper straw and said feedback in towns that have transitioned to paper straws has been “atrocious.”

As for the exception for disabled people, she said it’s probably not practical for a place to carry both paper and plastic straws. Couto-Tewell would prefer enforcing the laws already on the books, questioning, “When was the last time anyone knew of anyone getting a ticket for littering?”

She and others brought up the unfortunate ubiquity of nip bottles of alcohol thrown along roads, but the ordinance doesn’t address nips. Distante believes the state is in the process of addressing this. 

Mañana Cafe co-owner Justin Primeaux “found paper straws that hold up very, very well, and they cost me three-and-a-half times as much as the plastic straw, but I’ve changed my behavior and so has my staff,” he said. Primeaux added, “I do so much Navy business. Navy guys don’t use straws. They don’t have them on submarines.”

He said he currently uses a 9-inch, round, foil takeout container that costs him 20 cents each, and he found that a bamboo container passed a soak test and will cost 32 cents.

Primeaux also spoke Tuesday night, adding, "We always get government mandates. I’d much prefer one from my local government than from the state or federal government, because you guys know us."

His number-crunching gave Groton resident Bruce Jones, who supports the effort, the idea that there should be a series of workshops for business owners who have done the research to train others.

Speaking both Monday and Tuesday night, RTM member Rosanne Kotowski called the ordinance “government overreach” and said it isn’t equitable because the City of Groton and Groton Long Point aren’t included.

Fellow RTM member Michael Whitehouse expressed an issue specifically with the straw provision, saying that people would drive an extra mile and a half to a coffee shop in Stonington or the City of Groton “to get the coffee experience they want.” He noted the difficulty of drinking an iced coffee in your car without a straw.

e.moser@theday.com

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