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Stonington Ponders Plastic Bag, Straw Ban

Frankie Graziano
Connecticut Public Radio
The potential move could keep trash away from local beaches -- like duBois Beach -- while putting an emphasis on the quality of marine life.

The town of Stonington is considering a move to ban all single-use plastic bags and straws. It wouldn’t be the first Connecticut town to contemplate bagging the bag -- Greenwich recently passed a ban and Westport did away with them years ago.

Seattle, Washington is the only major American city that’s ditched plastic straws, and that’s happened within the last week. 

The recommendation to ban bags and straws came at a recent board of selectmen meeting in Stonington. But it didn’t come from one of the selectmen. It came from a guy who calls himself the “local crank”-- Stuart Schwartzstein.

“When there are issues that I think are of concern and should be of concern to a lot of people, I think raising them is a good idea,” Schwartzstein said.

Schwartzstein continued on about why he’s supporting the ban as he sat in a pavilion overlooking Stonington’s duBois Beach.

“I’m no expert on marine life,” Schwartzstein said. “What little I know is that, yes, experts say it creates damage. People have found various animals that have died when they shouldn’t have because of plastics.”

Credit Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
Stuart Schwartzstein is a Stonington resident that proposed the plastic bag, straw ban to local selectmen.

Two years ago, there was a failed effort in the Connecticut General Assembly to impose a nominal bag fee on local shoppers statewide. Wayne Pesce, the president of the Connecticut Food Association — a nonprofit that represents local grocers -- said that over a billion single-use plastic bags are given out by Connecticut retailers each year.

“We don’t support an outright ban, but we do support large percentages of reductions because it’s a convenience issue for consumers,” Pesce said. “If somebody wants to pay for a higher compostable bag, they have the choice to do that. We want to continue give our customers that choice.”

Pesce wants the bill to be reintroduced next session. He believes legislation failed because lawmakers were concerned that charging 5 or 10 cents per bag would be considered a tax.

“It’s really not a tax—it’s about helping change consumer behavior,” Pesce said. “If you charge me 5 cents or 10 cents, I’m going to think twice about that and potentially bring my own bag back. We know that works because it’s worked everywhere where they’ve done it.”

On the first day of 2018, New York’s Suffolk County enforced a 5-cent bag fee for consumers going to most retail stores in region. Long Island legislator William Spencer said it’s worked.

“Reuseable bag use had gone from five percent to 50 percent,” said Long Island legislator William Spencer.

Spencer sponsored the bill.

“We saw the amount of single-use plastic bags go from 70 percent down to 35 percent,” Spencer said.

He was very happy to see those results -- mostly because of the initial reaction.

“We were the recipient of a lot of angry phone calls,” Spencer said. “I was assaulted actually in public. I’ve been assaulted verbally. But, some of those same people now are supporters and they’re seeing a difference.”

Credit Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
DuBois Beach in Stonington.

Less than a mile up the road from Stonington’s duBois Beach is Noah’s Restaurant, where co-owner Andrew Field has been thinking about the potential plastic straw ban. He said if it goes into effect, he’d have to offer his customers an alternative.

“We’re researching how to do a better way than paper that disintegrate in your mouth and don’t stand up so long,” Field said. “There’s got to be better options than what are currently out there and there’s certainly not enough supply to meet the demand currently.”

Noah’s still features plastic straws because Field has yet to find a viable alternative. But, he’s working on it and has enlisted the help of one of his employees who’s experimenting with a 3D printer.

“We’re trying different ones like PET-G which is a food-grade plastic, but I’m looking for something that’s also more renewable and more sustainable—something that has some type of paper, like you said, or WoodFill that doesn’t disintegrate,” Stephen Abbott, the employee, said.

Kathy Flaherty has different concerns about a possible straw ban.

“Within the disability communities generally, people just see this as yet another example of people who are disabled not being listened to and not even being consulted,” Flaherty said. “And then, when we raise our voices after the fact, people are like ‘Oh, we didn’t even think about that.’”

She’s a member of a group that advocates for all people with disabilities. Flaherty said that for some, straws are a necessity.

“To charge people with disabilities for a straw when they’re on fixed incomes or to ban them completely so that they can’t get them -- and then people suggest, ‘Well, why don’t you just bring a reusable straw?” Flaherty said. “A -- those have to be cleaned. B -- those don’t always work.  The stainless steel ones, for some people with some disabilities, can actually cause them injury.”

Schwartzstein, has now heard these concerns, but he still thinks the ban should go through.

“It’s a matter of sustaining human life, as well as animal life, and also -- to the degree that it’s possible—for better health,” Schwartzstein said.

The next board of selectmen meeting in Stonington is July 11. That’s when the town will make a decision on forming a committee to explore the straw and plastic bag ban.

Frankie Graziano is the host of 'The Wheelhouse,' focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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