“Let’s embrace this change, let’s make this change happen. Darien, we can do it,” said Darien resident Annie Roberts to more than 100 people in attendance in Darien, amidst loud claps and cheers.
Roberts was speaking in support of a proposed plastic bag ordinance at the Feb. 6 Representative Town Meeting public hearing in the Town Hall auditorium. The ordinance, proposed by BYO (Bring Your Own) Darien, phases out plastic bags of less than 12 mil thickness over a six-month period and requires a 10 cent charge for recycled paper bags, with the charge being retained by the retailer.
The 90-minute hearing was moderated by Monica McNally, chairman of the RTM Public Works Committee, who said its purpose is to collect comments and ideas from the public. Aside from the Public Works Committee, the other committees involved with the ordinance are the TGS&A (Town Government Structure and Administration) Committee and the RTM Public Health and Safety Committee
Roberts said that change is a “part of life.”
“Change, it’s hard, nobody likes change,” she said. “This is not a difficult change but we all know transitions are difficult.”
Roberts’ sentiments echoed the opinion of the majority of the speakers at the hearing. Each person had three minutes to speak.
Olena Czebiniak, who works for SoundWaters based in Stamford, an environmental educational organization, spoke of the physical unattractiveness of plastic bags on beaches.
“We take our students on the beaches right after the runoffs, right after the storms and big rains, and we look at the beaches and see what all these storms are bringing to the beaches. They’re full of plastic,” she said. “We pick up pounds and pounds of it, and single use plastic bags are the biggest culprit.”
She said that just like with composting, Darien “has to be at the forefront of this. We should teach our generation how to preserve and protect what we have for the future.”
Clifford van Voorhees, who was also in favor of the proposed ordinance, spoke about his younger days when bottles were used for Coke and milk.
“We brought them back, they were reused. We didn’t have plastic bottles, we didn’t have plastic bags, and we got along just fine,” he said. He added that there are other ways people can carry their items home from the store with them, that are “equally convenient.”
Another resident, Lynne Brooks, said the concept of reusable bags is not new. She still uses the exact same recyclable bag for groceries that she had 29 years ago when she co-founded the Darien Environmental Group. One effort of the group involved offering recyclable shopping bags at cost to Darien residents, she said.
Brooks then showed her recyclable bag to the audience, who gave her a round of applause.
“If you multiply my 29 years of grocery shopping times 52 weeks per year, times five bags of groceries per week, I have personally removed 7,500 bags from production and waste stream,” Brooks said.
There were several young voices who spoke as well, one of which was Isabelle Hole, a senior at Darien High School. Hole is on the board of the Darien High School Eco Citizen’s Club. She’s an intern at SoundWaters and is working on an environmental research project to help protect Gorham’s Pond.
She referred to the plastic bag issue as an “environmental crisis.”
“It shouldn’t be viewed as something small. It should be viewed as the bridge to something that’s going to be bigger,” she said. “I don’t want my kids to live in a place where the whole world is polluted.”
There were some people who were opposed to the proposed ordinance, however. Bruce Orr, a biologist who has worked in the recycling industry, said the United States Environmental Protection Agency reports that plastic bag litter accounts for less than .05% of America’s waste stream.
Orr is the former chairman of the RTM’s Finance Committee and former member of the Board of Finance. In 2012, while serving as the head of that committee, he also expressed opposition the plastic bag ban that ended up failing on the RTM level.
He further said that none of Darien’s non-recyclable refuse including plastic bags goes into landfills. He said that it all goes into a Bridgeport Waste Energy plant, “generating 60,000 megawatts of energy, powering 60,000 homes in Fairfield County.”
According to Orr, the problems and challenging of plastic waste are not in Fairfield County or Darien but are in the developing world economies.
“Over half of the land based plastic waste leakage from our oceans comes from just five countries: China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand,” Orr said.
Furthermore, he said that “replacing plastics with alternative materials could raise environmental costs nearly fourfold.”
Joe Warren, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, who also serves as head of the Darien Housing Commission, said while he didn’t care whether or not the ordinance gets passed, it “does not address the problem.”
“It is simply a band-aid solution for what we perceive as a big big problem,” Warren said, adding that the problem is not at the local Darien supermarkets. “It’s in Bridgeport.”
“The fact that any of these bags can’t be recycled is simply unacceptable. And we, as a town, we, as a state, have to put pressure on the powers that be to understand why they refuse to recycle these products. We’ve learned to recycle all kinds of things and yet, this particular thing we are told [we can’t].”
He added that plastic bags are just a “drop in the bucket” and are not the fundamental problem.
“The problem is that Bridgeport won’t recycle them. They burn them instead. We need to correct the problem at the source,” Warren said, adding that the proposed ordinance is “not the way to do it. We have to address the problem on a much larger scale.”
Another retailer, Diane Browne, who owns Browne & Co in Darien, said if the ordinance goes into effect, it will be costly for her.
“As a store we spend about $30,000 a year on paper bags,” she said. If her store begins using the bags that are in the proposed ordinance, “it’s about a 15% percent increase, which is close to $5,000 a year.”
In September 2012, after an extended town campaign and a heated debate at the RTM, the plastic bag ban failed. While many RTM debates and votes are fairly uncontentious, the 2012 meeting included several speakers for and against, as well as three attempts to “call the question,” which ends the discussion and calls the vote. With only 82 RTM members in attendance, the proposal failed 36 to 46.
The public may submit comments until March 1 by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
After this time, the committees who are involved in the proposed ordinance will review all the comments and testimony, and a draft of the ordinance will be prepared to be circulated for review and comment on those committees.
The draft will then be reviewed by RTM Rules Committee and then submitted to the town counsel for legal review. Once it has been approved by the town counsel, it will be available for public review and comments before it’s voted on by the RTM.
More info: Byodarien.org