Young people express their voices in support of bag ordinance
The next generation made itself heard loud and clear at Wednesday night’s RTM Public Hearing on the proposed plastic bag ordinance.
While nearly 20 people spoke up, about half were young people.
About 60 people in total attended the hour-long meeting, which was held in the Town Hall auditorium. This was the second public hearing held by the Representative Town Meeting on the proposed plastic bag ordinance. Since the first hearing on Feb. 6, 43 people submitted letters to the RTM in favor of the proposed ordinance and seven sent in letters that were opposed.
One by one, or in groups of three, Girl Scouts and other young people of all ages walked up to the podium to get their message across to all those who were watching: Support the proposed ordinance.
The Ordinance for the Management of Plastic and Paper Checkout Bags, which was proposed by BYO (Bring Your Own) Darien, phases out 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.
According to a recent revision proposed by the RTM, stores under 10,000 square feet would permanently not be required to charge a 10-cent fee with the purchase of a paper bag. However, if they want to, they could.
Tatiana Devens of Girl Scout Troop 50469 spoke of what she said is the negative effect of plastic bags on the environment. “Most plastic bags end up as trash. They don’t break down and degrade so they end up in places we don’t want them, like the ocean,” she said. “Animals might eat these, which can choke them or make them sick.”
She also spoke of Long Island Sound, which she said is one of her favorite parts of Darien. “We go sailing in it, we go on my family’s boat, we swim in it, and we enjoy it,” she said. “It is important to me that I swim in clean water.”
Another youth, sixth-grader Anoushka Muchhal, said she is “very proud to be in Darien where people support this proposal to change our behavior and get people to reduce — not just the amount of plastic they use, but also the amount of paper. This will all help the environment and make Darien’s beauty last longer.”
Megan Palmer Rivera, managing director of Palmer’s Market, said that small businesses like hers, are “in support” of the 10-cent charge.
“Darien, unlike many other towns, is lucky to have so many [small businesses] and I think that’s what makes Darien so special. These days, thriving in the world of small business is more challenging than ever,” Rivera said. “We are competing with giants and we won’t have the buying power that they do.”
Rivera provided a breakdown of the costs of the bags on her business.
“Each year, Palmer’s goes through about 650,000 bags. Eighty-three percent of those bags are plastic. Our cost for single use plastic bags is three cents, our cost for paper bags is 14 cents. That’s almost five times as much. The average net profit for an independently owned grocery store is around three percent. For every dollar that you spend at Palmer’s, we only keep three cents at the end of the day. If Palmer’s were to switch to using only paper bags, this could potentially reduce our net profit by up to 12 percent,” she said. “That 11 cents difference might not seem like a big deal to you but it makes a tremendous difference to us.”
Choose to Reuse
Deepika Saksena, who was part of the group Choose to Reuse in town who previously fought, unsuccessfully, to ban single use plastic bags in 2012, also spoke in favor of the proposed ordinance.
“We spent two years educating consumers and talking to local merchants about the harm caused to us by these single use disposable bags,” she said.
She said that at that time, over 2,000 Darien residents signed a petition supporting an ordinance to ban single use shopping bags. This ordinance lost on the RTM floor by 10 votes.
“Now, six years and 30 million disposed shopping bags later, the group BYO Darien has proposed a similar ordinance. This time, we have a new demographic of Darien residents and RTM. This demographic is even more concerned and supportive of an ordinance,” Saksena said.
She spoke in favor of the 10-cent charge. “Recycled paper bags given away for free may be a solution to the plastic problem. However, from a carbon footprint point of view, those paper bags can be as harmful as plastic,” she said, adding that an ordinance that includes the 10-cent charge “will be a win-win-win for the environment, for Darien merchants, and for Darien taxpayers.”
Joe Warren, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, was the only individual who spoke against the proposed ordinance.
Warren, who also spoke at the previous bag hearing, said he is opposed to writing ordinances “just for the sake of writing ordinances.”
He further said that the “problem is that we cannot recycle all this plastic. If we take out of the stream the single use plastic bags, it doesn’t even put a dent in the type of plastic that is still being used in all of our stores.”
He added that to tackle this issue, “we have to address the bigger issue of how we can actually recycle the products that are in our town all the time.”
Warren proposed two ideas to help resolve the issue: 1-An ordinance that requires every department in town never buy anything that’s not made from recycled products; and 2-Engaging the town’s young people in the effort.
“The real answer to this problem lies with the ability to recycle all types of plastics. It seems to me we are a community that is filled with truly brilliant people in our high schools and those who live in town who go away to college. I would suggest that you raise money to set up scholarships to try to find the solution to the recycling problem.”
The public may submit comments to the RTM until April 3 by sending an email to email@example.com.
It is anticipated that there will be a vote by the three RTM committees: The Public Works Committee, the TGS&A (Town Government Structure and Administration) Committee, and the RTM Public Health and Safety Committee to forward the proposed ordinance to the RTM-Rules Committee on May 20. It will then be presented to the RTM on June 10 for a vote.