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Darien RTM Rejects Proposal to Ban Plastic Bags

"This ordinance is not going to deal with the plastic gyre in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean," RTM member Jim Cameron said. "It's only going to make us feel like we've done something, when we really haven't."

Proponents viewed it as a small but important first step toward improving the environment.

Opponents viewed it as an unnecessary government intrusion that would limit personal choice.

The Darien Representative Town Meeting on Monday narrowly rejected a proposal to enact a town-wide ban on single-use plastic bags.

After nearly two hours of comments — and sometimes impassioned pleas — from RTM members, elected town leaders and residents, the town legislative body voted 46 to 36, with no abstentions, against the proposal, which grew out of a grass roots effort spearheaded by Darien environmental group "Choose to Reuse."

About two dozen Darien High School students attended the meeting in support of the measure, which altogether had been in the works in Darien for more than two years. Many of them had earlier signed a petition which had been circulated around town by "Choose to Reuse" in support of the proposal. As of Monday's meeting, the petition reportedly bore the signatures of more than 2,300 residents, about 600 of whom were high school students.

"I'm here with hundreds of signatures from Darien students who are taking a stand in support this ordinance," said DHS freshman Finley Wetmore, one of only two students to make it to the podium. "Every day thousands of single-use plastic shopping bags leave Darien grocery stores and chain pharmacies with customers. About 12 percent are recycled, some are thrown out — and [the rest] end up in trees, down storm drains, on the beach and in backyards like my own. These discarded bags are Darien's way of saying we don't care enough about the environment to just grab a reusable bag as we get out of the car."

Meanwhile members of "Choose to Reuse" had set up an informational booth, complete with a TV monitor for showing videos, in the hallway just outside the town hall auditorium, where they circulated "pro-ban" materials about plastic bags and recycling — as well as, of course, re-usable bags. The 137 pages of the petition were proudly hung on the walls and strung across the hallway for display — and some people were still signing it even as the meeting began. The group estimates that Darien residents use up to 6 million plastic bags per year — and aims to get those bags out of the solid waste stream by banning them completely.

"I have been told my whole life that making the right choice is not always easy," Wetmore said. "My teachers, parents, coaches, religious leaders and other adult mentors have told me that making a good and responsible choice can be hard. It can be inconvenient, it might take me out of my comfort zone and it could even challenge the status quo. I think this ordinance is one of those choices. Does it stretch some of us beyond our comfort zone? Possibly. Does it ask us to change our behavior? Maybe. Is it worth it? Absolutely. We are not just citizens of Darien we are citizens of the world — therefore it is our duty to preserve protect and love this earth."

A majority of Darien's lawmakers, however, were not swayed by the young residents' starry-eyed optimism.

"This is another ordinance that infers that we're not wise enough to make proper choices in our lives — and which hinges on personal freedoms," said RTM member Arden Broecking. "These days I rarely see people going into stores or supermarkets without reusable cloth bags. I have 22 of them and I store them in the car. They are readily available, inexpensive and encouraged in local markets. I believe a formal law to be unnecessary — and I think such a law might force local food prices up, among other things…"

RTM District 4 and Health and Public Safety Committee member Jim Cameron said while he "loves democracy" and completely appreciated the grass-roots effort that led to the ordinance coming before the RTM, "It's flawed — it has a false premise that we have a serious problem with plastic bags in this town."

"I am an environmentalist — I recycle everything that comes into my house," Cameron said. "I am as green as I think I can possibly be — but I am against this ordinance."

"Whether its 3 million or 4 million bags that get distributed in town each year, I think more than 22 percent of them get recycled, and those that don't get incinerated," Cameron said. "They are not flying around our streets and getting caught in the trees."

"If plastic bags are the problem then why are we proposing a ban on just one kind of bag?" Cameron asked rhetorically. "What about the plastic bags that come wrapped around my newspapers in the morning? What about the plastic bag that comes on my dry cleaning? If we had a problem with speeding in this town, we wouldn't just crack down on small beige vehicles, we would go after them all…"

Supporters of the proposal — which had also attracted the support of Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE) — cited examples of other area towns which have successfully enacted similar bans, including Westport, as well as New York towns Rye, Mamaroneck and South Hampton.

Chris Jobson of Jackson Place said when Westport implemented its ban on single-use plastic bags in 2008, "about 600,000 fewer plastic bags were issued in that town." He said since the ban was implemented four years ago "about 2 million fewer plastic bags have been used in Westport… and there's no reason the same can't be true here." What's more the store owners in the town have actually seen their operating costs reduced, as they no longer need to supply bags, he said.

"I value our freedom of choice as much as anybody," Jobson said. "But when convenience is an option our human nature will often get the better of us — people will grab that plastic bag."

"However if there is a rule out there — they will remember to bring that reusable bag — and it will have an impact on their behavior," he said.

Most RTM members, however, weren't drinking the proverbial plastic bag ban Kool-Aid.

"Darien does not have a plastic pollution problem," Cameron said. "The world has a pollution problem that this ordinance is not going to effect. This ordinance is not going to deal with the plastic gyre in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It's only going to make us feel like we've done something, when we really haven't."

Earlier in the meeting David Kahn, chairman of the RTM Public Works Committee, reviewed a lengthy study crafted by his committee that details how plastic bags are disposed or recycled. In order to track and see first-hand what happens to Darien's plastic bags as they move through the waste stream, Kahn and members of his committee earlier this year took tours of the Darien Transfer Station; the "Wheelabrator" waste to energy facility in Bridgeport; and the City Carting transfer station and recycling facility in Stamford.

Kahn said on Sept. 18 with 13 of 14 members present, the Public Works Committee rejected the proposal by a narrow 5-6 vote with two abstentions. His committee, however, unanimously approved sending the measure on to the full RTM for an up or down vote. The RTM Town Government Structure and Administration Committee also narrowly rejected the proposal 5-6; as did the Public Health and Safety Committee by a vote of 4-5.

Several ancillary recommendations grew out the Public Works Committee's study of the issue — one of which is that the dump "needs better signage" to tell residents where to put their plastic bags (the transfer station started recycling plastic bags in May, when the town implemented its single stream recycling program), Kahn said.

Kahn added that several committee members felt the issue was already being largely addressed through the new single stream recycling program, which significantly expands the range of materials that can be recycled and allows residents to mix them indiscriminately.

He added however, that even though the single stream recycling program has been in effect in Darien for several months now, "it's still very unclear to people what they can and cannot recycle."

Kahn said more education is needed in order to increase awareness and get residents to capitalize on the program, which brings in revenue for the town through the sale of single-stream materials to haulers, including Stamford's City Carting. He said currently Darien gets about $15 for every ton of single stream waste it sells to City Carting. The hauler, in turn, makes money from the waste by selling it to a company that extracts the recyclable materials. In addition City Carting benefits from the deal because it no longer has to pay tipping fees on the single stream waste, Kahn said.

Angie S. September 25, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Hmm...interesting...so, "Westport, as well as New York towns Rye, Mamaroneck and South Hampton" have all caught the CA-NY disease. I did not know that. Sigh.
Jim Cameron September 25, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Agreed 110%! During the meeting there were 3 attempts to "Call the question". I voted against them all: everyone needed to be heard. As for the HS kids... I hope some of them run for RTM (if they're over 18) as there are plenty pf empty seats in many districts.
Jim Cameron September 25, 2012 at 06:48 PM
Chris: Here's what the petition said (copied from CTR website): WE, THE UNDERSIGNED, ELECTORS OF THE TOWN OF DARIEN, agree to sign this petition that will work to rid the Town of Darien of 6 million plastic bags being put into our environment each year, by creating an ordinance to ban the use of plastic retail checkout bags and thereby encouraging the use of reusable bags. Excluded from this ordinance are plastic "produce" bags made of very thin plastic and bags measuring 28"x 36" or larger, such as dry cleaner bags.
Chandra Johnson Greene September 25, 2012 at 07:02 PM
The following comments were posted on Darien Patch's Facebook page. They responding to a question asking whether the RTM made the right decision: Ted Edwards: "I am good with it." Shelly Ransom: "I think the "Choose to Reuse" initiative is a good one, and it has brought a lot of awareness to folks to remember to bring their own bags while shopping. However, I think the RTM made the right decision." Angie Stock: "RTM made the right decision. There's no going back without violent upheaval once we start going down the path of expansion of government power and contraction of individual freedom of choice. I pray we never catch the CA-NY diseases where the de facto presumption is that a new regulation will solve everything. I say, education NOT regulation! Provide people with the information to make up their own minds, but refrain from the temptation to be a control freak! I ought to know. I'm a control freak at heart, too. So I know one when I see one. LOL...and these CA-NY government types have me beat on the control freak scale!"
Jean D. September 25, 2012 at 09:39 PM
I stand by my nutty chicks assessment thank you. EXCEPT I can add nerdy guys to the mix. Hmm sounds like the whole liberal party. BTW are the nuts and nerds worried that the Muslim Brotherhood might nor respect the environment? Why don't they go over there and preach to them..BTW wonder where those Egyptian sewers are routed? PLEASE go over and complain! I can't wait! As for me I refuse to be a sitting duck for such idiocy when there are more pressing issues to worry about. Plastic bags indeed. Nuts and nerds (and a few brainwashed students)
Joe Pankowski September 25, 2012 at 10:09 PM
@ Jean: I seriously doubt that many of the supporters of the plastic bag ban were members of the "liberal party", "nutty chicks" and/or "nerdy guys." What I do know is that attacking your neighbors isn't going to bring people to your side of the political fence.
Chris September 26, 2012 at 12:44 AM
Jean and Angie: Like Joe P. I think you are missing the point by making disparaging remarks about others and it doesn’t really help your cause. I am a 55 year old male and a life long republican who has lived in Darien for 12 years. You can find me at the dump dropping off my recyclables or at Stop and Shop getting 5 cents for returning my glass and plastic bottles. What is surprising is that you have made an assumption about the political views of those of us who are for the ordinance; my political affiliation has nothing to do with the issue. Frankly your POV feeds right into the argument that republicans are old sticks in the mud and don’t have enough common sense to see the benefits of supporting an idea that has more positive attributes then negative. At the end of the day the Choose to Reuse folks raised awareness to an important issue which may be five years ahead of its time here in Darien. When plastic bags are finally banned which I suspect they will be, we as a town will look like followers instead of educated and innovative leaders.
Chris Noe September 26, 2012 at 02:00 AM
@ Jim Cameron. Thanks fir attaching the petition. I was asked to sign it at the Nature Center when I saw their film. I had forgotten what it said but I did not sign it. So in the end they wanted ban the Plastic bags and specify their replacement which is harder to accept. The movie they showed was weird. Just when you begin to understand these kids he decides it is OK to fart. Then it happens again. I said to myself, this is a joke and have better things to do. But, I stuck it out and gained as much information from this as I could to make an informed decision. My uneasiness came when members of the group said they just wanted to pass a law.
Bestiarius September 26, 2012 at 01:22 PM
A look at the CTR website makes it obvious that this group’s management was only interested in “facts” that support their agenda. This is not an unbiased organization looking to further a cause based on scientific facts. Photos of a plastic bag hanging in a tree in front of Palmers imply bags are flying around everywhere. A notice that advertises that a plastic bag lobbyist will appear before the Selectmen and encourages people to attend the meeting to support CTR. However, there is no report of what the speaker said in opposition to the ban. The fact that reusable bags should be washed is given little consideration. Will people do it? What about the enviro cost of extra detergent, water, electricity and effort required for this necessary task? It’s distortions like these that damaged CTR’s credibility. Because of the relentless effort put forth by CTR, many RTM members jumped on the bandwagon based only on info generated by CTR. I’m thankful that the majority of RTM members used their own analytical abilities and defeated this ill advised effort. I think it’s unanimous that the RTM supports CTRs education efforts to reduce the use of plastics. Let’s hope CTR takes heed and limits their future activities to education. This may not generate personal glory, but it will lead to a better environment for us all. Let’s see which tack they take.
Siwanoy September 26, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Jim, What districts need representatives? and what kind of time commitment does it require? I think if more people were are there were empty seats and what was needed those seats could fill up. (hopefully at least!) on a side note, "If we had a problem with speeding in this town, we wouldn't just crack down on small beige vehicles, we would go after them all…" very well said!
Angie S. September 26, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Unlike the liberals around these parts, I don't have a cause. I call things as I see them. Your experience might've been different from mine. But in my experience, most of the folks who come up with ideas like "plastic bag bans" do tend to be in the liberal camp. That's not to say that there aren't Republicans or conservatives on that bandwagon, but I'm all about probabilities. And probability tells me more often than not those ideas come from liberals. Stereotypes exist for a reason (they're not always true but they come from frequencies of occurrence that generate certain perceptions). And from my own experience, liberals' bashing of conservatives and Republicans and answering questions with name calling SHOULDN'T win anyone over to their cause either; but then, as a resident of the NY metro area for most of my life and someone whose friends and acquaintances are geographically concentrated in CA and NY, I sure often get the impression that the liberals have EVERYONE in their camp. When one gets fed up, it's a lot more difficult to refrain from serving back some of what the opposition has dished out. That's just human behavior. *shrug* Having heard "right wing nuts" often enough, I'm not surprised by Jean's "nutty chicks" --- though I'm not quite sure where the "nerdy guys" comes from...LOL. Most of the "geeky", analytical, engineering types I know are NOT in the liberal camp --- especially on the subject of environmentalism.
Angie S. September 26, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Those same phrases caught my attention. "more positive attributes than negative" and "educated and innovative" are Chris' OPINION. In reality, that's subject to debate --- certainly given the close vote.
Angie S. September 26, 2012 at 03:13 PM
"Let’s hope CTR takes heed and limits their future activities to education. This may not generate personal glory, but it will lead to a better environment for us all." I can't agree more.
Angie S. September 26, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Totally. I'd be hoarding the plastic bags for lining my small household garbage cans if they were going to be banning them. Instead, I balance my use of reusable bags and plastic bags such that I never have to buy liners for my garbage cans; and I wash my reusable bags infrequently so as to try to balance the "invisible/intangible costs" of using reusable bags (often excluded from the activist slogans) with the benefits.
P. Smith September 26, 2012 at 08:18 PM
nicely said, Chris.
P. Smith September 26, 2012 at 08:22 PM
There is a nice 5 minutes "mockumentary" called The Majestic Plastic Bag that I recommend you watch on YouTube if you've never seen it. It addresses this issue with humor that both sides of this argument would enjoy.
BCT September 26, 2012 at 09:03 PM
George Carlin did a monologue as well (amazingly 20 yrs ago!). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eScDfYzMEEw But remember it's George Carlin (warning: language).
sebastian dangerfield September 27, 2012 at 12:20 AM
sinawoy "I think if more people were are there were empty seats and what was needed those seats could fill up. (hopefully at least!)" Well said.
Steve September 27, 2012 at 08:33 AM
I agree that its odd to express 'choice' thru the use of gov't mandate. Here's a quote that I've long thought appropriate. This issue is only temporarily set aside, they will be back. "Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies, The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." -- C.S. Lewis
BCT September 27, 2012 at 10:44 AM
Brilliant quote. Timely and true. Thank you!
Siwanoy September 27, 2012 at 03:39 PM
I'm so thankful we have luca patrolling the boards for typos, thanks for catching the one in my post, much appreciated. I meant to say, I think if more people were aware there were empty seats and what was needed those seats could fill up. (hopefully at least!)
sebastian dangerfield September 27, 2012 at 06:32 PM
siwanoy, You are welcome.
Terese Golden September 28, 2012 at 01:16 AM
I am happy with the decision. I am tired of the Government telling me what I can and can not do. Last time I checked, I live in a free country, not a nanny state.
Terese Golden September 28, 2012 at 01:34 AM
One more thing, I am making sure my children are not brainwashed in school by the liberal teachers who are not able to keep their personal views to themselves. Teachers are there to educate students and shouldn't be teaching liberal policies. If my child feels passionate about not using plastic bags than that is her/his choice. I will also make sure that my chid respects the fact that someone else may choose to use them.
Fred September 28, 2012 at 02:42 AM
Nicely said indeed, Chris. If we can't be discerning leaders now, I hope that at least we will be educated followers in the future.
Bestiarius September 28, 2012 at 12:14 PM
Thankfully, the opposition to the bag ban was substantial. Not as close as the 46-36 vote makes it appear. When the ban initiative was referred to the RTM for a vote, CTR's strategy was to stack the RTM with CTR members. Ten bag ban proponents ran unopposed for RTM seats. Without those extra 10 votes, the vote would have been 46-26 a landslide defeat.
Siwanoy September 28, 2012 at 05:57 PM
who were those 10 RTM members that were added?
Debra Ritchie September 28, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Just cross check the members of CTR with the members of the RTM...
tonyjinjin October 03, 2012 at 02:47 PM
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Chris Noe January 06, 2013 at 06:36 PM
This is why I asked Town Council to read the Robert's Rule of Order to clarify when members should abstain. There were no abstentions.

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