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Groton moves forward with plastic, polystyrene ordinance

Groton — The Representative Town Meeting is slated to take up an ordinance to reduce single-use plastics and polystyrene on Feb. 12, according to Town Manager John Burt.

In an 8-1 vote Tuesday, the Town Council gave its final approval for the ordinance, sending it to the RTM.

The ordinance, which went to public hearing in November, would ban business and food service establishments from providing plastic carryout bags, plastic stirrers and polystyrene food service products, including cups, bowls, plates, trays and clamshell containers. It also bans establishments from providing plastic straws unless a person requests one. 

The ordinance also provides a list of exemptions, from laundry dry cleaning bags to prepackaged polystyrene containers of raw meat or seafood.

Before the council vote, people showed up to voice their opinions, with some saying the ordinance would put an unfair burden on businesses and others saying the town should take action to protect the planet.

Ashley Couto-Tewell, a Dunkin’ Donuts franchisee with five locations in Groton, said she was not alerted to the ordinance. Couto-Tewell, who also had raised concerns at a business forum in November, said Forbes magazine has ranked Connecticut as No. 43 of the best states to do business with, and the cost of doing business in the state is 10 percent higher than the national average.

"We are already struggling in this state, and I’m just asking that you guys, as the town councilors of Groton, do what you can to help mitigate things for businesses in this state," she said. "Do what you can at the local level to do the best that you can to not make it harder for us in the state that it’s basically impossible for us to do business in."

Elizabeth Raisbeck, co-chair of Groton Conservation Advocates, said the council has given great thought to the ordinance and town staff has done tremendous research. She said at least 20 towns in Connecticut already have passed single-use plastic bans, and this is the way the world is going.

"We are drowning in plastics in this world," she said. "Long Island Sound is getting millions of pounds of plastic dumped into it every year. We can take care of our little part of the world."

Joseph D. LaBianca, a McDonald's franchisee at 561 Long Hill Road, wrote in an email to the council that the restaurant's distribution center has no alternative to solid polystyrene lids, "which means all our coffee lids could be banned with no alternative."

In response, the council voted 6-3 to remove lids from the list of polystyrene food service products banned in the draft ordinance.

"I think this is a point of compromise," Councilor Lian Obrey said. "I know what we’re doing is good, but we also have to take care of the people that have businesses in this town. I think I mentioned it before, I will mention it again: You’d be amazed at what can make a small business go out of business."

But Councilor Joe Zeppieri said the environment is the top concern and, after listening to presentations on the issue, he doesn't think the council should water down the ordinance but instead beef it up.

“I think we have to look at the big picture, as you say, and worry about whether or not there will be a place for our children on this planet," he said.

Conservation Commission members and environmental advocates applauded after the council approved the ordinance.

Councilor Juliette Parker, who voted in opposition to the ordinance, said the town should have done more research, education and outreach to businesses.

The ordinance calls for a six-month period after adoption before going into effect, and businesses could request an up to 90-day hardship variance. The ordinance would not apply to the City of Groton or Groton Long Point.

k.drelich@theday.com

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