Town to hold public hearing on plastic bag ordinance

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From left, BYO Darien Co-Chairman Lucia Zachowski, committee members Laurie McGrath and Annie Roberts, Co-Chairmen Juliet Cain and Paola Sordoni.
From left, BYO Darien Co-Chairman Lucia Zachowski, committee members Laurie McGrath and Annie Roberts, Co-Chairmen Juliet Cain and Paola Sordoni.

After seven years, the town of Darien is moving once again toward an ordinance that would phase out single-use plastic bags and promote recyclable bags.

A public hearing on the plastic bag ordinance has been set for 8 p.m. on Feb. 6, in the Town Hall auditorium.

The ordinance, proposed by BYO (Bring Your Own) Darien, phases out over a six-month period plastic bags of less than 12 mil thickness and requires a 10 cent charge for recycled paper bags, with the charge being retained by the retailer.

“We are doing the hearing as a way to get information from the public, including both from businesses and individuals,” said Monika McNally, chairman of the Public Works Committee of the RTM (Representative Town Meeting).

This will be the second time that a plastic bag ordinance was considered in town. In 2012, a group in Darien called Choose to Reuse campaigned hard for the RTM to ban plastic bags. The debate was contentious but in a sparsely attended RTM meeting, the proposal to ban plastic bags was defeated by a 36 to 46 vote.

To date, Greenwich, Stamford, Weston, and Norwalk have already passed plastic bag ordinances. “Norwalk’s ordinance was passed unanimously by the Common Council on January 8 and is similar to the draft ordinance that we have submitted to Darien’s Town government,” said Juliet Cain, co-founder of BYO Darien, a group formed in May of 2018 to encourage residents to bring their own reusable bags when shopping.

Greg Palmer, owner of Palmer’s Market on Heights Road, was initially opposed to the ordinance in 2012. Now, he supports it, he told The Darien Times.

“The goal is to get rid of all single use bags and get people to start bringing their own reusable bags,” Palmer said. “Paper and plastic are both bad for the environment.”

He added, however, that a paper bag costs 13 cents while a plastic bag costs about 3 cents.

“Chain stores can spread that cost across their chain, as opposed to an independent with one or two stores, such as Palmer’s,” he said.

If stores start charging for paper, he said “People don’t want to pay 10 cents, so we are hoping they will bring their bags to reuse. This will reduce the use of paper bags as well as ban the plastic bags.”

‘Raising awareness’

Cain said that “almost every day,” there is media coverage of “plastic pollution.”

“We have spent, and continue to spend, time on outreach to businesses, schools, and the community generally, raising awareness of the environmental and health issues surrounding plastics, and have received strong support for our proposals,” Cain added.

 Lucia Zachowski, co-founder of BYO Darien, said BYO Darien is not just trying to reduce the plastic waste in town, but also along the waterways — “particularly Long Island Sound.”

“If the beautiful environment we live in here in Darien becomes marred by increased plastic waste roaming around and washing up,” than both the environment and real estate values will be affected, she said.

BYO Darien met with nearly every business— over 100 — in town, as well as nonprofits, “and has gotten very little pushback,” Zachowski  said. “Everybody I met said, ‘It’s about time.’”

Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said that the Board of Selectmen supported sending the conversation about the ordinance to the RTM for their consideration.  

She said the Board understands that the effort is intended “to create an incentive for folks to bring their own reusable bags when they shop here in Darien.”

“For many, the time has come to be proactive in reducing plastics, like single-use bags, in our waste stream,” Stevenson said.

Changes since 2012

Since the first ordinance was debated, Darien’s recycling partner, City Carting, no longer accepts single-use plastic bags and films in their single-stream recycling program, Stevenson said.

She added that Darien is a “leader” in recycling and other sustainability efforts and a plastic bag ban “is supported by a growing number of our town residents and businesses.”  

Selectmen’s concerns

The Board of Selectmen expressed concern over two aspects of the proposed ban. First, ordinances must include a detailed enforcement procedure “but we do not want the town to bear any operational expense for enforcement of a bag ban,” Stevenson said. “Increase operating expenses result in higher property taxes.”  

Second, some Board members are concerned about the “legality of imposing a government-mandated 10 cent charge for paper bags and would like to see our residents voluntarily make the change to reusable bags without government intervention,” Stevenson said.

“We are following the debate closely and look forward to hearing from the public on the issue,” she added.