Groton ordinance to reduce single-use plastics, polystyrene advances

Groton — An ordinance to reduce single-use plastics and polystyrene in town has moved a step closer to enactment.

The Town Council at its Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday approved the ordinance, which Town Manager John Burt said will next go before the council for a vote at its regular meeting on Jan. 7. If approved, the ordinance would be referred to the Representative Town Meeting.

The ordinance would ban business and food service establishments from providing or making available, either for free or at a cost, plastic carryout bags and plastic stirrers, and from serving, selling, distributing or providing food in polystyrene food service products, which includes cups, bowls, lids, plates, trays and clamshells, according to the document. It also would ban the establishments from providing plastic straws unless a customer specifically requests one.

The ordinance excludes the City of Groton and Groton Long Point, said Jon Reiner, director of planning and development services for the town.

Bags for dry cleaning, newspapers, prescriptions, medical necessities, frozen food, meat or fish, unwrapped prepared food, bakery goods, and bulk items such as produce, nuts, candy or small hardware items, are not included in the ban. Polystyrene containers filled and sealed before being received by the establishments and prepackaged polystyrene containers of raw meat or seafood also are allowed, along with prepackaged bulk sales of plastic straws, plastic stirrers and polystyrene items.

The ordinance would go into effect six months after adoption, and the town, the Economic Development Commission and the Conservation Commission would plan on doing additional outreach to business owners during that period, Reiner said.

"We want to work with our businesses and those impacted most by the adoption of the ordinance," he said.

The ordinance states that businesses can seek a one-time hardship variance, for up to 90 days, from the town manager.

The town's code enforcement officer would handle enforcement by responding to complaints, said Bruce Lofgren, a planner with the town. If the officer finds a violation, the business would be notified "in writing and given 14 days to gain compliance" and no fine would be "imposed for the initial violation," according to the ordinance. But after that 14 day-period, if the business is not in compliance, it would be subject to a $150 fine per offense.

Bill Groves, vice chairman of the Economic Development Commission, said the EDC doesn't have a position on the ordinance, but wanted to make sure the business community was engaged. He said a business forum on the ordinance, held by the EDC last month, was well-attended, but given more time to get involved, he thinks the businesses would have had more of an opportunity to add their voice to the issue.

The EDC can be a good resource for the business community if business owners have any questions about the ordinance, said Groves, mentioning that one business owner at the forum brought a box of items to ask if they would be banned. He said the EDC could offer help to businesses that want their products reviewed to see if any of them fall under the ban.

"As the EDC, we'll do the best we can, if it does pass, of how can we support the businesses through the transition period," Groves said. He added that it also would be important to keep an eye on what impact the ordinance is having and if there are any unintended consequences, and then relay any concerns to the Council.

Town Mayor Patrice Granatosky said the process has been thorough and deliberate, and included interactions with local boards and commissions, the business community, conservation groups and the public.

"The ordinance is a living document and will be revisited, and its efficacy evaluated. If tweaks are needed, or we want to expand, we can adapt as needed," she said. "As far as implementation, the Town will be taking up a referral aimed at educating the community about the ordinance. We hope to work with local businesses who have already made the plastics reduction changes serving as peer mentors to other businesses just getting started in the process. And we will be looking for community involvement in implementing the goals of the ordinance."

Lofgren said the process leading up to the ordinance involved a collaboration among a lot of groups, starting with the initiation from the council. The Conservation Commission then took the lead with research and reaching out to as many business owners and residents as possible, he said. The commission put out a survey last winter and held an educational forum in September.

He said the Economic Development Commission also got involved and held the forum for businesses, which was held the night before the public hearing last month.

"They're volunteer boards and they put a lot of time in, and it really showed in the product," Lofgren said. He also called the Groton Conservation Advocates a "great asset" in conducting public outreach and finding experts for the educational forum. 

"We think this is a very good step forward for Groton to have a cleaner, greener town in the future and to protect Long Island Sound," said Elizabeth Raisbeck, co-chair of Groton Conservation Advocates.

"I think it's an excellent step forward for the town, and a lot of people have put a lot of thought and time and effort into making sure it was good for both citizens and businesses," said Kristin Distante, a member of the Conservation Commission. "We really applaud the Town Council for thinking ahead — rather than being reactive, they’re being proactive on this — and I think Groton is being a green leader in the region."

Lofgren said the town's Office of Planning and Development Services worked on researching ordinances from different towns and tried to find a good consistency with other state and regional ordinances while also addressing the unique qualities of Groton. He pointed out that Groton is in line with other communities in Connecticut that have banned single-use plastic bags and plastic straws, but is one of the few communities in the state that extended the ban to polystyrene products.

Reiner said the town, working with the EDC, Conservation Commission, and the council, would continue to review the ordinance after it goes into effect.

k.drelich@theday.com

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