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Earth Matters State-wide ban on single-use plastic bags makes sense

February 16, 2019

Plastics helped save my life.

I went into Yale New Haven Hospital on Jan. 29 for open heart surgery to get rid of a leathery, calcified aortic valve. I got home on Feb. 7.

Every IV line and bag, every syringe, every tube they stuck in me was plastic. The little bouncing ball thing they use to improve your breathing is plastic.

I now have a plastic PICC line in my arm. The list goes on and on. And I marvel at the minds and the technology that form plastics into so many things. (I used a plastic ballpoint pen to take notes for this column.)

“Zip ties are plastic,” said Bill Lucey, Soundkeeper for Save the Sound. “A lot of moldings in your car are plastic.”

So when people say “We must shut down the petrochemical industry in America!!! Now!!!” I wonder whether they have looked at what would be lost. Like it or not, we live in a world shaped by plastics. (Hey, Ben Braddock. Maybe that wasn’t such bad advice after all.)

There. Now let’s get on to how glaringly wasteful we are with the plastics we throw away.

When clean-up crews with Save the Sound and Connecticut Fund for the Environment gathered beach debris in the fall of 2018, a conservative count of all they found was around 50,000 pieces of plastic junk — cigarette filters, 6-pack rings, Styrofoam cups, soda bottles, plastic bags.

Which is why Lucey and others find the ongoing grassroots effort to ban one-use grocery store plastic bags so encouraging.

“You have to start somewhere,” he said.

Louise Washer, president of the Norwalk River Watershed Association, has been following the movement as well.

“I’m really excited about it,” she said.

Five towns on or near Long Island Sound — Norwalk, Westport, Weston, Stamford and Greenwich — have banned the use of plastic grocery bags in their towns.

But the movement is moving inland. New Britain banned plastic bag this month and Middletown is taking up the cause.

Wayne Pesce, the president of the Connecticut Food Association, which represents the state’s grocery stores, said there are now 22 towns in the state contemplating some sort of ban as well.

What everyone, even the Food Association, agrees on is that one-use plastic bags are dreadful.

There are 600 million to 800 million of these bags sold in the state every year. They never disintegrate.

If they escape into the outside world, they snag on trees and help clog streams and rivers. Unsnagged, they float out to sea and look like jellyfish.

“They’re finding them in the stomachs of whales and sea turtles,” Lucey of Save the Sound said.

They clog up the works of trash incinerators and recycling operations, Pesce said. They’re both an environmental blight and a costly industrial nuisance.

Which is why, for the first time, there is genuine hope that the General Assembly will pass a state-wide ban on plastic bags this year.

The Food Association backs such legislation.

“It’s a global, international, national, regional, state and local problem,” Pesce said.

It also makes sense, logistically. Each of the town bans may differ, which means that big chains with many stores in the state will have to figure out what’s allowed in one town, what’s not in the next.

Caraluzzi’s Markets, which has stores in Newtown, Bethel and Georgetown, agrees.

“We support a state-wide approach,” said Mark Caraluzzi in a written statement. “The Connecticut Food Association has been working with state officials and several towns to get a universal plan in place.”

“It’s the right thing to do,” Pesce said. “Hopefully, it’s the right year.”

If this happens, it would be a triumph of environmental good sense over mere convenience. It’s really not hard to carry a bunch of canvass — or even plastic fiber — bags with you into a grocery store.

And it might be the first in a series of moves that get other plastic waste out of the environment. New York City, for example, has banned the use of Styrofoam cups and plates.

“We’ve needed to upgrade the bottle bill,” said Washer of Norwalk River Watershed Association. “We haven’t looked at that in years.”

Contact Robert Miller at earthmattersrgm@gmail.com