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News

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

RTM Approves Ban on Plastic Bags

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Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) late Tuesday night passed an ordinance banning the use of plastic bags for retail checkout of purchased goods.WestportNow.com Image
A slide presentation by proponents of the plastic bag ban ordinance preceded the three and a half hour debate. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

The vote just before midnight was 26 in favor, 5 opposed, and one abstention. The ordinance, which will become effective in six months, urges residents to use reusable bags and provides for a $150 fine for each store offering plastic bags in violation.

First proposed in July, the legislation was sponsored by four members from District 4. (See WestportNow July 2, 2008)

One of the four who sponsored the ordinance, Jonathan Cunitz, called it a “bold leadership step to prevent further deterioration of our environment.”

A large crowd overwhelmingly in favor of the ban turned out for the debate which went on for three and a half hours before the vote.

Lanning Bryer, a member of the Conservation Commission, said he favored the ban and urged RTM members not to let the paper vs. plastic debate distract from the ban on plastic.

Mary Ann Neilson was short in her support—“It doesn’t need to be discussed,” she said. “Just get used to it.”

Carl Leaman, chair of the Green Energy Task Force, said his group had studied the issue and voted to back the ordinance.

Janet Kempner said “Westport schools are going green,” adding, “Using a reusable bag is no big deal.” She said schoolchildren had learned over and over to recite the phrase “reuse, recycle, reduce.”

“It’s our town, and it should be our choice,” she said.

Westporter David Pogue, technology columnist for The New York Times, was animated in his support of the ordinance.

“Don’t let our kids and grand kids look back on us as idiots,” he said, adding, “And if you pass it, I’ll write about it in the Times.”

Linda Gramatky Smith said she was so proud of Westport merchants who had expressed support for the ordinance and looked forward to the impact Westport would have elsewhere.

“I feel we’re going to be in People Magazine as heroes of the week,” she said.

Steve Rosario, who said his clients included the American Chemistry Council, argued against the ban, as did Stan Sorkin, executive director of the Connecticut Food Association.

Sorkin said he had come to the RTM with the managers of the local Stop & Shop and Shaw’s Supermarket and that his member grocery chains would prefer a plastic bag recycling law coupled with a proactive campaign urging use of reusable bags.

First Selectman Gordon F. Joseloff said he supported the ordinance, although he had some initial concerns about enforcement and said there could be a cost to taxpayers should there be litigation against the town.

“I send a message to the Connecticut Food Industry Association and the managers of Stop & Shop and Shaw’s in Westport that Westport is different,” he said. “There’s something called the Westport factor. And just because something might not work elsewhere, it does work in Westport.”

He said he believes a plastic bag ban can succeed elsewhere and the message to other communities in Connecticut and across the nation should be “you can do it, too.”

The first selectman suggested large supermarkets instead of selling reusable bags should give them away and sell advertising space on them to pay for the bags.

During the RTM debate, a motion to add a “sunset clause” to the ordinance which would have made it expire on Sept. 19, 2009, was defeated 29-4.

Diane Cady, District 1, who voted against the ordinance, said it will drive people back to using paper bags, which have their own environmental issues.

Richard Lowenstein, District 5, also an opponent, said among those who would be impacted are Westporters who rely on plastic bags for various uses and might find it costly if they were not available for free.

In addition to Cady and Lowenstein, those voting against the measure included Michael Guthman (District 2), Jay Keenan (District 2), and Judy Starr (District 1). Amy Ancel (District 3) abstained.

According to the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Westport’s plastic bag ban is the first of its kind east of the Mississippi River.

So far, the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as Manhattan Beach, Calif., Maui and Big Island, Hawaii, have approved legislation banning non-biodegradable plastic bags, while Seattle approved a 20-cent tax on all disposable bags.

Posted 09/03 at 04:16 AM
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Comments:     Comment Policy

The role of the RTM is to conduct our Town business, not legislate citizen behavior. Good or bad, it’s not up to 36 folks to start making rules [AKA Ordinances]. I fear their next move…balloons? condoms? chewing gum?

Posted by Tom Feeley on September 03, 2008 at 04:34 AM | #

Couldn’t agree more Tom!  This just shows us all how important elections are, on the local and national level!  This group of indivduals is completely out of control.  I wonder if they will ban plastic bags at the farmers market, or at Winslow to pick up our dog waste?  Maybe they’ll go so far as to ban plastic soda and water bottles next?  Regulating how we residents choose to conduct our daily lives is a slippery slope, I can only imagine what’s next?  I played nice, recycling, conserving, etc….I’m done with it.  Come and get me……

Posted by Tom Werner on September 03, 2008 at 04:53 AM | #

Any member of the Westport public can own and use plastic bags.  You will just have to purchase them first instead of getting them freely from the grocery stores.  If the ordinance had instead been written that no town member can own or use plastic bags, it would have faced severe opposition.  The only thing that has happened by the passage of the checkout bag ordinance is that something that has been a convenience but has external costs associated with it has now become costly.  Your rights however have not been affected.

Posted by Kevin D. Green on September 03, 2008 at 05:15 AM | #

I wonder why the two Toms didn’t get up to express their opinions in public tonight.  It was a thoughtful discussion of the ISSUES and the points they are saying were all covered.  And remember how people protested about the NYC law to pick up dog poop a few years ago?  Now it’s so natural that no one thinks anything of it.  What about the lack of smoking in restaurants?  That was going to kill the industry ... and it didn’t.  We get used to doing the right thing, guys!  And yes, you have a right to bring into any store plastic bags to take home your purchases.  There are a few wise exceptions: Max’s needs huge plastic bags to protect artwork (which of course won’t fit in recyclable bags) and cleaners need plastic bags which are open at both ends for clothing (although apparently they are coming up with some alternatives too).

As the article says, I am SO PROUD of my hometown and how we will be the first town on the East Coast to take a stand.  I trust my fellow Westporters and bet that, like me, when one keeps bags in the back of their car, it becomes a habit to just say “I’ve got my own bag” or “No bag please.  I’ll just carry the item.” 

When was the last time that you were involved in doing something that will make a real difference to the world our children will inherit?  Bravo, RTM, and bravo to the “4 from District 4” and the couple of citizens who first suggested this idea to them!  And thank you to everyone who has tried bringing a bag when doing errands and found out that “hey, it ain’t that hard.”

Posted by Longtime Westporter on September 03, 2008 at 05:35 AM | #

Kevin:

Don’t talk about rights being affected, you’re way out of your league on that one…and the “external costs” associated with the use of plastic bags, is going to be far outweighed by the increased use of paper at a much greater cost to the environment by logging, paper making operations, distribution, and ultimately lying in a landfill taking up far greater space.  What’s next on your socialist agenda RTM…????

Posted by Tom Werner on September 03, 2008 at 12:36 PM | #

Whilst all of us naturally want to do what is right for the environment I am struggling to see what the point of this ordinance is? If we really are trying “to prevent further deterioration of our environment” as per J Cunitz there are certainly more effective measures one can take but they are individual choices and cannot and should not be mandated by town officials.

The amount of polyethylene consumed in the production of a plastic bag is miniscule compared to the amount of hydrocarbons we burn without even thinking about it. If the town wants to do what is right for the environment then what is next:
•  Can only live in a 2000 sq ft house
•  Ban SUV’s
•  No fires
•  Your thermostat must be set to 65 in the winter and 75 during the summer
•  No buying water in bottles
•  No barbecues
•  Reduce speed limit in town to 15 mph
•  And so on…………….

I am all for doing what is right for the environment but I think the town has completely gone about it the wrong way and we are now on a slippery slope. Well done RTM!

Posted by Joe Witz on September 03, 2008 at 01:18 PM | #

Joe,

You have included some good ideas on reducing our impact on the environment. I have added some slight modifications. I would recommend we all work toward saving energy and thus bypass the need for additional ordinances.

1. 2,000 may be a little small but I’ve never heard anyone applaud the new 6,500 sq. ft. spec house casting a shadow on their property.

2. $4.00/gal has already caused the SUV market to collapse. Gas is so high people may even turn their SUVs off while waiting in parking lots.

3. Fires are a significant source of air pollution and some ski villages already restrict them. fewer smaller fires are a reasonable compromise

4. The NRDC recommends:
Set your thermostat in winter to 68 degrees or less during the daytime, and 55 degrees before going to sleep (or when you’re away for the day). During the summer, set thermostats to 78 degrees or more. Those 6,500 sq. footers may need to be even more extreme.

5. Good idea on the water bottles, refill them with filtered water and save a bundle.

6. Barbecues are a lot of fun, invite friends and cook together for a guilt free event.

7. Actually up to 55 mph is considered a fuel efficient speed but not recommended in town. Modified tip: go easy on the acceleration and braking. The Prius with its mileage feedback display can actually teach you to drive more efficiently.

Here is a rich source for more energy tips;

http://www.nrdc.org/air/energy/genergy/easy.asp

Finally, use reusable bags. It really isn’t that difficult.

I think you have also hit on a great tagline.

The slippery slope to sustainability.

Posted by Jerry Kuyper on September 03, 2008 at 01:50 PM | #

Jerry, I guess the point I was trying to make is how can one not see the incredible hypocrisy when juxtaposing the ban of plastics bags versus the “uber consuming” hydrocarbon town that we are? The ban is illogical and embarrassing to say the least! Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

Posted by Joe Witz on September 03, 2008 at 02:11 PM | #

All this will do is create a media buzz.  The RTM should be dealing with issues that directly affect WESTPORT citizens :Taxes are too high, Spending is too high, speeding and crazy drivers are out of hand, and what about reigning in overdevelopment ?  Raising my grocery bill by increasing the stores costs is not responsible in tough economic times. Want to save the earth? Turn off lights at the sewage plant at night, it lights up the sky every night,  Better yet slow down traffic,  that will save more petro than banning bags made of recycled plastics.

Posted by chip stephens on September 03, 2008 at 02:22 PM | #

Joe,

I feel the ordinance is a reasonable step. Everyone that shops in town will be reminded that the small actions we each take do have impact.

A version of this slide show was presented by a student last night, scroll down to August 5.

http://ctgreenscene.typepad.com/

The discussion is reminiscent of the recent “tire gauge” debate. Amazing that correctly inflated tires actually can save 3% on gas consumption.

Here are two of my favorite quotes.

No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.

Edmund Burke
Irish orator, philosopher, & politician (1729 - 1797)

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

Posted by Jerry Kuyper on September 03, 2008 at 02:32 PM | #

Chip,

More good ideas on saving energy and reducing light pollution, pass them on to your RTM member.

The biggest contribution to helping keep supermarket costs and prices down is bringing reusable bags.

Posted by Jerry Kuyper on September 03, 2008 at 02:38 PM | #

Jerry,

The problem with this ordinance is not whether it’s reasonable or not, it’s the slow eroding of our personal freedoms and continued increase of goverment intrusion in our lives. People evenutally become numb to this ever increasing intrusion,  until it’s too late, and all their freedom is taken away.  History is filled with this exact scenario, granted on a far grander scale, but the principal is the same.

Your quotes are interesting to say the least, as they can be used for both sides of the debate.  The one from Margaret Mead I think is most relevant as it was a small group of citizens that dumped a bunch of tea in a harbor not too far from here, to protest a minor tax!  Imagine the revolt if they were told to curtail their use of firewood to heat their homes and cook their food?

Posted by Tom Werner on September 03, 2008 at 02:56 PM | #

Dear Mr. Werner,

I’d be pleased to be enlightened regarding how your rights have been violated by this ordinance.  Are you barred from owning and using plastic bags?

The energy/environmental issues are extremely complex. Having read a good deal about the issue, I found that most if not all the studies are not necessarily applicable to us in Westport, for they assume the bags enter landfills as opposed to being incinerated.  The complexity of the energy and environmental issues cannot be digested into a simple sound-bite or simple conclusion.  If you wish to discuss that off-line, I’d be glad to have the conversation.

It is worth noting that initially all the members of the RTM Environmental Committee felt conflicted about the ordinance.  In fact, one voted against it, one abstained, and two were absent from the RTM meeting at the time of the vote.  It took me a long time to get on board regarding this ordinance, and I can understand how rational people could line up on different sides of this issue.  There was good representation at the Environmental Committee meetings from people who opposed the ordinance, and I for one was disappointed that fewer chose to speak at the full RTM meeting. 

If you believe your wants and needs are being usurped by an oppressive government, you are free to run for public office.  Most if not all of us on the RTM are happy and proud to have differing views represented.

Posted by Kevin D. Green on September 03, 2008 at 03:01 PM | #

Isn’t this more along the lines of the 5-cent deposit for cans and bottles?  The point is to reduce litter as well as the use of plastics.
As I recall, the big cities that have implemented this ban have done it because they were tired of seeing the plastic bags floating up past the 10th floor windows, and landing in their local waterways.

Posted by Dan Lasley on September 03, 2008 at 03:05 PM | #

If you would like some facts about WHY it’s important to ban plastic bags, people can watch the Powerpoint presentation most easily by clicking on http://www.poconorecord.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080506/MULTIMEDIA02/80505016.  We are killing our wildlife and littering all our streams and waterways with these plastic bags that never decompose.  Driving slower and lowering the thermostat are great individual actions, but the plastic bags are hurting our land and wildlife.

I bet other towns will follow Westport’s courageous leadership.

If you feel a bit scared about “how is this going to affect me?” just know that many speakers last night had felt the same until they tried.  They started bringing a few recyclable bags into Stop & Shop, Shaw’s, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.  It very quickly became a habit that they felt good about.

Posted by Longtime Westporter on September 03, 2008 at 03:06 PM | #

Tom,

Interesting insights. I guess our personal freedoms began to erode with the ten commandments.

Last night several people reminded us of freedoms that had been lost over the years. The freedom to smoke wherever and whenever you want and the freedom to let your dog deposit a pile without the owner having to dealing with it.

Those losses of freedom for some turned into gains of freedoms for others:
-  to enjoy a flight, office space and restaurant meal without smoke -  to take a walk without looking down

Posted by Jerry Kuyper on September 03, 2008 at 03:11 PM | #

Linda, the plastic bags are no more harming our wildlife than; fertilizers that seep from our lawns into streams and ground water, boating gasoline spills, broken septic systems, and salt run off from our roads into streams.

The difference here is that you can actually see a plastic bag which I suspect is why the RTM came up with this ill conceived notion of banning them.

I guess at the end of the day we all have a guilty conscience about the way we live so we feel vindicated by enacting some half brained ordinance on banning plastic bags.

Posted by Joe Witz on September 03, 2008 at 03:51 PM | #

Joe, thanks for the additional good tips for things we can all do.

Reduce the use of fertilizer/pesticide and/or the size of our lawns.

Avoid spilling gasoline/oil while on boats.

Get your septic tank cleaned regularly.

Minimize use of salt in the winter on your driveway and walks.

Posted by Jerry Kuyper on September 03, 2008 at 05:04 PM | #

I find it disheartening that so many people are so misinformed. It requires so much more energy and resources to manufacture and transport paper bags then plastic ones, yet the so-called environmentalists actually believe they are helping the environment when in fact they are doing more harm than good. While I strongly believe we should all do our part to protect nature and conserve this ban does not accomplish the end goal. In fact it is counterproductive and defeats the purpose. There is a saying, “Nothing is so firmly believed, as to which the least is known” and this is a perfect example. Even the New York Times ran a front page article last month titled “Findings; 10 Things to Scratch from Your Worry List” number 5 was evil plastic bags!

If your only goal was to reduce plastic bags from landfill and as litter, then you have accomplished your goal. If your goal is to protect the environment, which includes trees, water, emissions and reduce your carbon footprint, etc., then you fail miserably. Perhaps the empty symbolic gesture and the impression of doing well are more important then hard facts. However, I still follow the laws of physics and hold critical thinking and analysis’ in high esteem.

It is ignorant to think that paper bag usage won’t increase in the absence of plastic bags. It is naïve to believe that people will just take to the reusable totes in lieu of plastic bags. However, the people that push for these types of laws never consider the unintended consequences. They will say things like, “the data isn’t conclusive” which translates to; it doesn’t support their argument and besides let’s not let those pesky little things called facts get in to the way of our feel good legislature.

Some may say, “Well it’s only a plastic bag ban…” well I see it as much more. For one, it’s not based on facts. Second, what’s next? California also wants to state regulate your thermostat, should we jump on that band wagon too? Will you not let me make a nice warm fire in my fireplace in the near future, will you say we can no longer build homes over 3,000 square feet, will you say we can no longer own cars in Westport that get less than 25 miles to a gallon? I could go on, but hopefully you see where this is going.

And the ironic things is that most of the RTM that voted for this were in favor of building a 100,000 sq.ft. business on the Saugatuck River within the aquifer and building artificial turf fields for our young children. No way should this ban exist while we are going ahead with these projects!

Now I’m just going to sit back and watch Stop & Shop and their high priced mouth pieces sue us and our AAA rating into the poor house!

Posted by John Raho on September 03, 2008 at 08:21 PM | #

I trust Westporters and believe that they will start using recyclable bags all the time and not ask for a paper bag instead.  I’m not naive.  Do you avoid any restaurant that is non-smoking, John?  Do you decide not to scoop up your dog’s poop in Winslow Park?  Sometimes good ideas come along and THEY WORK!

And yes, a big part of this is to stop the plastic bags littering our waterways and harming wildlife, so thank you, John, for saying that we have accomplished our goal.  As citizens find they can influence the environment in small ways, our trees, water and carbon footsteps can’t be far behind.

The RTM members are not stupid!  The research that the committees did was so complete on this plastic bags ban that it is an insult to say that they were misinformed.  Everyone on the RTM recognized that paper bags take more energy to manufacture, but it costs more to recycle plastic bags.  So District 4 will be educating the public about why the USE of recyclable bags (not just “no plastic bags”) is such an important thing we can do.

Posted by Longtime Westporter on September 03, 2008 at 08:42 PM | #

I can understand the freedom fighting that is sparked by this ordinance, but if you take a look around at how ignorant we all had to be to let this happen to our planet in the first place, we might realize that every once in a while people need a kick in the butt to keep them in line. There is nothing wrong with re-usable bags or carrying things to the car instead of wasting a bag for three items. A little practicality never hurt anyone..

Posted by Glen Friedman on September 03, 2008 at 09:11 PM | #

The RTM’s bag ban is community democracy at its best.  Some of the reactionary comments here are demagoguery at its most mediocre.

Posted by Andy Yemma on September 03, 2008 at 09:35 PM | #

Do any of you realize that anytime someone uses a paper bag in lieu of a plastic bag you just harmed the environment many times more?

Hoping that everyone uses a recyclable tote is a fantasy. If you “feel” so sure about that, then go ahead and ban paper bags as well. Just because you believe something doesn’t make it so. That’s the thing with self-righteous moral superiority, it ain’t necessarily so.

By the way, smoking bans and poop scoop laws have no equivalency to this ban. Those are entirely different matters, can you not see that? I guess not since you take credit from me for accomplishing your goal, when in fact I was illustrating, I thought quite clearly, just the opposite.

You claim they did their research; No they didn’t. What they did was build a case for banning plastic bags on anecdotal evidence and selective data. They don’t have, or you for that matter, any idea how much resources it takes to manufacture and transport a ton of plastic bags versus paper bags. Nor do they have any means or intention to quantify this data and compare the outcome after the ban is in affect.

Damn science and those hard facts!, Damn them all to hell!

P.S. I will never suffer the indignity of picking up a mutts feces, for I am a cat person.

Posted by John Raho on September 03, 2008 at 10:08 PM | #

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