BYO Darien: RTM will consider plastic bag ordinance

Darien’s Representative Town Meeting will consider a new ordinance to promote the use of reusable shopping bags instead of single-use plastic bags at stores in town. Local advocacy group Bring Your Own (BYO) Darien has reached out to businesses, nonprofit organizations and schools to garner the support for a full transition to recyclable paper bags at checkout.

The plastic bags used at store checkouts across the country are a large source of pollution and contribute to the dozens of tons of unrecyclable plastic dumped into the oceans each year. BYO Darien cites a number of large-scale environmental concerns stemming from the use of plastics, including adverse impacts on marine life, rising levels of toxicity in seawater, and an increasing amount of plastic debris found on the town’s beaches.

Members of BYO Darien visited the Board of Selectmen during its Aug. 27 meeting to present their recommended ordinance and to describe their work with the community thus far. The organization is recommending a six-month phase out period for businesses to stop using plastic bags. To further encourage shoppers to use their own reusable bags, businesses would have the choice of charging a fixed fee to provide recycled paper bags, which would be made of a minimum of 40% recycled materials and be 100% recyclable. Plastic bags not specifically used at checkout, like those for produce, newspapers and laundry bags, would not be considered under the ordinance.

The BYO Darien website (BYODarien.org) currently lists more than three dozen local businesses and organizations in support of eliminating the use of non-recyclable plastic bags. The RTM Rules Committee will consider the ordinance at its Sept. 10 meeting and determine if it is ready to be brought the RTM’s full body for a vote.

This won’t be the first time the Representative Town Meeting has considered a ban on plastic bags. In 2012, Choose to Reuse, a group that included Darien High School students, successfully petitioned more than 2,000 signatures for a plastic bag ban. That movement failed to pass the Representative Town Meeting, with a 46 to 36 vote against a new ordinance. However, as evidence of the environmental impact of plastic continues to mount, a number of Connecticut towns are considering their own rules for plastic bags.

Westport’s town ordinance, implemented in 2008, completely prevents the use of single-use plastic bags at checkout, limiting retailers to recyclable paper bags instead of plastic. Greenwich passed a similar ordinance in March 2018 that will officially go into effect on Sept. 12. Greenwich considered including a 23-cent fee for each recyclable bag provided by retailers, but the town’s RTM removed the fee from the ordinance and placed a three-year term on the ban. The ban will be enforced by Greenwich’s Conservation Commission, which can fine businesses up to $250 for non-compliance. Stamford’s Board of Representatives is considering a ban on plastic bag use as well.

BYO Darien will continue to promote the ordinance through education and environmental initiatives. The group is working with schools in both Darien and New Canaan to host a competition for reduced plastic use as the school year begins and will host a series of movies at the Darien Nature Center and Darien Library. BYO Darien will also continue to provide presentations at the Darien YMCA, YWCA and Senior Center to further inform the public about the proposed ordinance.

To learn more about this local environmental initiative and the long-term impacts of plastic use, visit the organization’s website at BYODarien.org.