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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    Groton's Oct. 5 enforcement date for plastic reduction ordinance approaching

    Groton — On Oct. 5 the town will begin enforcing a ban on plastic bags, plastic stirrers and polystyrene food containers, as well as plastic straws unless requested by a customer.

    The ordinance, aimed at reducing plastic and polystyrene products to protect the environment and public health, went into effect in July. But due to the public health crisis and financial hardship facing businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Town Council had approved a 90-day extension that delayed enforcement, said Bruce Lofgren, a planner for the town, during a business forum this week on the ordinance.

    With the enforcement date fast approaching, the Economic Development Commission and town staff said they wanted to reach out to businesses, which have been focused on survival during the pandemic, to remind them of the ordinance and provide assistance if needed.

    The ordinance prohibits food service establishments and businesses from providing single-use plastic shopping bags, plastic stirrers and polystyrene food service products, such as cups, bowls, plates, trays and clamshell containers. They can provide plastic straws only when customers ask for one.

    Groton Economic and Community Development Manager Paige Bronk said by phone that he believes businesses’ struggles, as they deal with often limited operations and extra expenses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have not really allowed them to focus on plastic and polystyrene reduction to date, so he thinks there is still going to be a learning curve for many businesses in the community.

    The Economic Development Commission held the forum on Monday and the town has been communicating on its websites to get the word out to businesses about the Oct. 5 enforcement date, Bronk said. The forum is available for viewing at bit.ly/gtplasticsforum.

    The ordinance will be enforced on a complaint-driven basis, Lofgren said. If someone files a complaint, the blight officer will investigate to determine if there are any violations and then allow a business two weeks to come into compliance. After that two-week period, the fine for businesses in violation is $150 per day.

    Jon Reiner, the town’s director of planning and development services, said by phone that when complaints and concerns come in, the town will do its best to work with businesses to get them into compliance. “We want to work with our businesses,” he said. “We don’t want to start fining them. That’s not the goal.”

    Reiner said the goal of the ordinance is to become less reliant on plastics within Groton’s business community and the business stream.

    During the forum, suppliers shared some of the alternative products that businesses are using, including paper or wood stirrers, bamboo or recycled paper containers, and pasta straws.

    Justin Primeaux, a commissioner on the EDC and a partner with two family members of Manana Café in Groton, which switched to more environmentally friendly alternatives even before the ordinance went into effect, gave his perspective during Monday’s webinar.

    He provided tips, such as having multiple suppliers. He said supply has been difficult at times, so he encouraged businesses, once they find an item they have been searching for, to buy enough supplies to cover a few weeks.

    He said businesses now will be looking at different products that are naturally more expensive. But he pointed out that Groton is not the only community to move away from plastic. He said the majority of the West Coast doesn’t use plastic, and Cape Cod, Nantucket, Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard also have plastic bans. It’s a growing trend, so eventually the price of the products will decrease as plastics are phased out, which in the long run is better for the world.

    He said that while it’s a challenge, it's not the biggest one businesses have faced in 2020. “Be creative and look at every option out there,” he urged.

    From the feedback EDC Chairman Bill Groves has heard, restaurants have been focused on trying to survive the changing landscape during the pandemic, and plastic reduction has not necessarily been at the forefront of the business owners’ minds. Supply lines may be tough, especially if businesses haven’t tried yet to get the alternative products, he said.

    The EDC is reaching out to the business community, including through the forum and handing out business cards.

    Groves said the EDC will do the best it can, if it’s matching up suppliers or discussing the potential of a consortium of small businesses joining together to purchase supplies.

    He said resources for the businesses during the pandemic are available on exploremoregroton.com, and he’s also encouraging businesses to sign up to receive emails so the town can distribute information to them.

    The ordinance does not apply to the City of Groton or Groton Long Point and also has a list of exempted items. For example, barrier bags made of heavy-duty plastic for fruit, vegetables or nuts; laundry and dry-cleaning bags; and bags used to wrap fish or frozen foods are allowed, Lofgren said. Styrofoam trays with raw meat and fish also are allowed.

    Businesses still can provide paper bags at checkout, and it’s up to individual business owners to decide whether they want to charge a fee for it, Lofgren said.

    Business representatives looking for more information or assistance can contact Bronk at (860) 448-4095 or PBronk@groton-ct.gov. They also can contact Lofgren at BLofgren@groton-ct.gov with technical questions about the ordinance.

    k.drelich@theday.com

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