RTM shoots down plastic bag ban in Darien

Despite strong efforts by Choose to Reuse, vote fails 36 to 46

Darien Times/Doug Smith cartoon

In one of the closest votes, and contentious debates, in recent RTM history, the proposal to ban plastic bags was defeated by a 36 to 46 vote on Monday night. But if more RTM members showed up to vote, the results could have been different, as only 78 people voted when the town charter allows for 100 people to be on the RTM.

Each RTM committee that presented their findings to the body indicated that each committee had voted against the proposed ordinance, but each committee vote was within one vote of going the other way, with the exception the Finance & Budget Committee, which only had four members show up for an informal vote, as they lacked a quorum.

Seven RTM members spoke against the ordinance, and eight spoke out in favor. Nine members of the public, including Selectman David Bayne, spoke in support of the ordinance. Democratic RTM member Tony Imbimbo made a motion to suspend the rules of order and allow two high school students to speak, and his motion was supported unanimously by the RTM.

High Schools students Finley Wetmore and Meighan Grady spoke in support of the ordinance.

“I have been told my whole life that making the right choice is not always the easy choice,” said Finely, who is a freshman at Darien High School. “Making good, responsible choices can be hard, it can take you out of your comfort zone, but making a good choice is still important… We have a duty to preserve and protect and love this Earth. It’s not about politics or economics, but it’s about our world as we know it.”

Each RTM committee also presented a minority report, which was succeeded by thunderous applause by a packed town hall meeting room. Only one non-RTM member, Chris Noe, former RTM member and first selectman candidate, spoke in opposition to the ban.

The debate raged on despite three separate motions to call the question, which is RTM-speak to stop the debate and vote on the proposal at hand. But all three times, a two-thirds majority failed to uphold the motion, which is similar to what happens in Congress when a two-thirds majority is needed to end a filibuster.

Moderator Karen Armour did her best to move the debate along, and urged speakers to keep their comments to three minutes and to only speak if they were saying something that had not yet been said.

The debate began with chairman of the Public Works Standing Committee, David Kahn, revealed claims made by proponents of the ordinance, which sought to ban the use of plastic retail bags of the like used at grocery stores in Darien, and whether these claims would have any impact on public works.

Kahn and other members of his committee visited the Wheelabrator incinerator in Bridgeport where all municipal solid waste from Darien goes to burn and generate electricity, and Kahn said he doubted the plastic bags burned there were adding any detriments to the environment. He also said he estimated the town tossed around 15,000 pounds of these plastic bags, which constituted a small fraction of the 10 million pounds burned each year from Darien trash, and that recycling the plastic bags is a source of revenue for the town as City Carting pays $15 per ton of recyclables.

Opponents of the ban cited concerns that the ordinance was government overreach, that plastic bags in the environment was not a problem in Darien, and that the ordinance was more of a feel-good maneuver that lacked any real potential to achieve change.

Some commented on how, despite the outcome of the vote, the ordinance was a perfect example of democracy in action. Jim Cameron, RTM District 4 representative who is also a columnist for The Times, voted against the ordinance but applauded Choose to Reuse for their efforts, which included gathering signatures from roughly 2,300 residents in support of the ban.

“I love democracy,” Cameron said. “I’m so glad this issue has come before this body.”

Proponents of the ban still advocate the use of reusable bags, and have said they will continue their education campaign regardless of the RTM vote.

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