Wilton entertains proposal to further ban plastics
WILTON — With the goal of making Wilton more environmentally responsible, Wilton Go Green is proposing two town ordinances: banning single-use plastic bags at checkout; and eliminating polystyrene and plastic stirrers, with straws available by request only.
Wilton Go Green grew out of the town’s Energy Commission with the specific task of making Wilton the most sustainable town in Connecticut. Furthering that goal, Tammy Thornton, the group’s president, reviewed the ordinance proposals with the Board of Selectmen on Feb. 11.
By way of introduction, she said the ordinances are being proposed for a number of reasons, including protecting the health and well-being of Wilton residents and the environment, and producing less waste.
Plastic Bag Ban
The group’s first proposed ordinance would eliminate single-use plastic bags at checkout by September 2020.
A state law went into effect on Aug. 1, 2019, phasing out plastic bags less than 4 mil thick by 2021.
Wilton Go Green would like to restrict the law further by eliminating single-use plastic bags a year sooner than the state law.
Plastic bags would be required to be made from durable plastic at least 12 mils thick, three times the state standard of 4 mils.
Excluded from the ban would be plastic on meat, seafood, loose produce, unwrapped food, newspaper bags, and laundry or dry cleaning bags.
The group is also proposing a 10-cent fee on brown paper bags at checkout.
The paper bags would have three requirements:
They must be 100-percent recyclable.
They must contain a minimum of 40 percent post-consumer recycled content (except that an eight pound or smaller paper bag shall contain a minimum of 20 percent post consumer recycled content).
The bags must conspicuously display the phrase “Reusable” and “Recyclable” on the outside of the bag and the percentage of post-consumer recycled content.
Norwalk currently has a 10-cent paper bag fee and 12-mil requirement for plastic bags, Thornton said.
“The idea is, we want people to bring their own bags,” she said.
She presented pros and cons of paper and plastic bags, noting both have environmental impacts. Her report concluded that when considering litter and its impact on marine life and the food chain, from the environmentalist’s view, paper is the lesser of the two evils.
Negative impact of paper bags:
Requires 14 million trees to be cut down annually.
Requires thousands of gallons of water to create one ton of pulp.
Requires fossil fuels to transport.
Have twice the carbon footprint as plastic.
Negative impact of plastic bags:
Litter prone and clogs storm drains.
Breaks down into microplastics that end up the food chain.
Are manufactured from fossil fuels.
Are detrimental to recycling systems, causing jam ups.
Are not biodegradable and will last centuries in the environment.
Polystyrene, plastic stirrers, straws
Under Wilton Go Green’s second proposed ordinance, Wilton businesses would need to eliminate polystyrene and plastic stirrers, and straws would be available upon request only.
Thornton reviewed a number of environmental and health concerns with polystyrene, a synthetic aromatic hydrocarbon polymer commonly found in foam cups and food containers:
Polystyrene contains styrene and benzene, suspected carcinogens and neurotoxins that are hazardous to humans.
When burned, polystyrene releases both carbon monoxide as well as 90 different hazardous chemicals.
When heated, hazardous compounds may leach out of the container into the food or beverage about to be consumed.
Even when disposed of properly, polystyrene foam can be blown from disposal sites.
Lightweight and buoyant, polystyrene travels easily through gutters and storm drains, eventually reaching Long Island Sound and the ocean.
Contaminated ash is produced from incinerators that handle polystyrene and is buried in landfills.
Polystyrene is not recyclable.
Thornton presented a list of concerns with plastic stirrers and straws:
In the United States alone, over 500 million plastic straws get discarded every day.
Stirrers and straws are used for a few minutes and last for hundreds of years in the environment only to degrade as microplastics that end up in the food chain.
Plastics end up in waterways and out to the ocean.
They are not recyclable.
Contaminated ash is produced from incinerators.
There are safer and healthier alternatives.
She said requiring straws be made available upon request only would reduce the number of straws in the environment and reduce the cost to businesses.
She said some Wilton businesses are already following these guidelines and some are in the process of transitioning away from polystyrene use and are offering alternatives. In addition, a number of businesses have already made the switch from plastic to paper straws.
Penalties and enforcement
There will be penalties for violating the ordinances, according to Thornton, similar to what other towns are doing.
Upon the initial violation, there will be a written warning. For a second violation there will be a $150 fine, and there will be a $250 for the third and each subsequent violation.
In order to give businesses time to work through their supply of plastic bags and polystyrene products businesses can request an extension of time to get into conformance.
There are a number of officials that could oversee enforcement of the ordinances, Thornton said, such as the town’s code enforcement officer, the conservation department, or the health department. Anonymous reports could also be made through See, Click, Fix.
First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice expressed concern that the town didn’t have the staff to do code enforcement on the ordinances.
Thornton said she didn’t foresee a need to do much code enforcement.
The selectmen discussed the ordinances further at their meeting on Feb. 18.
Vanderslice said the Economic Development Commission and Wilton Chamber of Commerce will discuss the ordinances with town businesses to get their input and feedback before any next steps are taken.
The ordinances would then be presented at public hearings and voted on at a town meeting.