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Choose to Reuse Casts Doubt on Voluntary Plastic Bag Ban

Members said that the presence of large chain stores would make it difficult to implement an effective ban without an ordinance.

Members of Choose to Reuse in Darien renewed their call for an ordinance barring retail plastic bags Monday night, telling the Board of Selectmen that a voluntary ban wouldn't lead to a large enough reduction in their use.

The conclusion was based on a survey of local businesses conducted by the group, which is campaigning for a ban due to the environmental hazards posed by the bags. Organizers say some 600 residents have signed a petition in support of the ban.

After CTR made its initial presentation to the board in April, First Selectmen Dave Campbell and Selectman Jerry Nielsen requested that the organization study the possibility of a voluntary plastic bag ban. Both of their businesses — Ring's End Lumber and Nielsens' Florists, respectively — have committed to such a measure.

On Tuesday, group members returned to the board with data on 146 of Darien's merchants [read]. Of those, according to the group, 50 said they use plastic bags, 14 of whom committed to observing a voluntary ban:

"Of those 50 stores, there are only a handful that account for the largest percentage of single-use plastic bags," said CTR member Nina Miller, such as , , , , and several other chain stores.

Chain stores pose a particular problem for a voluntary ban, Miller said, because their managers "are unable to commit without corporate approval."

Three businesses in particular — CVS and Stop & Shop's two locations — account for close to 50% of retailers plastic bag usage across Darien, according to the group's research. Stop & Shop alone gives out about 3 million per year.

"Stop & Shop continues to be supportive of our efforts, but their hands are tied by corporate policy," said CTR's Linda Goodyear. "However, they have stated ... that they will certainly comply with an ordinance."

"We hoped that a voluntary ban could achieve a reasonable change, but what we found is that without the participation of the big chain stores ... a voluntary ban just can't achieve a reasonable change," said Leila Wetmore.

Wetmore said the group hoped to be able to bring the proposed ordinance before the Representative Town Meeting in September and asked for the Board of Selectmen's support.

But Jayme Stevenson, standing in as acting first selectman Monday night, pressed the group on whether it had considered all angles of a voluntary ban, noting that positive publicity for retailers who make the switch could push other merchants to join in.

"It seems interesting to me that those large retailers are very willing to stand by a town ordinance to rid themselves of plastic bags, but have a general unwillingness to do so on a voluntary basis," Stevenson said. "We really need to be addressing this issue with some of those heads of corporations, because if you can do it under an ordinance, you should be able to do it on a voluntary basis with the will of the people of that municipality."

"It's our local family merchants that will possibly suffer a financial burden," Stevenson added later.

Supporters of the ban said that Westport businesses haven't complained of a competitive disadvantage since the town introduced its ban in 2008 and that stores have actually saved money in some instances by pushing customers toward reusable bags.

Selectman Callie Sullivan suggested that the board should also consider the broader implications of becoming the second town in the area to ban the bags.

"If Westport and Darien both do it, then let's pressure Norwalk into doing it, because that's where you're really going to make a difference. ... If we can't even pull the ripcord here and get it done, then we can't look to Norwalk and ask them to ban. We can't look to Stamford," Sullivan said.

Stevenson said the board would consider the ordinance at a future meeting after it receives input from Town Counsel Wayne Fox.

Concerned Mom June 08, 2011 at 12:23 PM
What's next banning motor vehicles in town? Where will is end?
citizenbrwn June 08, 2011 at 02:24 PM
That is quite a leap Cindy! It's no wonder our world is in such a state with people being so unwilling to take any small measures to improve the situation. Plastic bags is one tiny thing. This is our planet. We need to stop the lip service and take action.
Bestiarius June 08, 2011 at 03:26 PM
I agree with Cindy. We don't need more laws to dictate our behavior. I believe people will use plastic bags more responsibly as they become increasingly aware of the environmental issues. If there is a ban and I run out of plastic, I'll just shop in Stamford or Norwalk to replenish my supply. A ban will hurt local merchants. I'd welcome it if the bag ban people would concentrate on education, but I think a legal ban would be a mistake.
Shirley R. Ottenstein June 08, 2011 at 08:54 PM
The people who do not want plastic bags, do not take their trash to the dump. The bags are extremely useful to put plastic containers for recyling itmes. It is much easier to carry a few plastic bags then use the large blue container, as when that is full, it is heavy. Ruth
Shirley R. Ottenstein June 08, 2011 at 08:58 PM
You apparently do not take your plastic bottlers, plastic containers, glass bottles to the dump. I .do. The plastic bags are most useful and light. They are useful for picking up DOG droppings etc. On a rainy day they save books, etc. from getting wet. I use my cloth bags as well as plastic bags. Ruth

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