ENVIRONMENT Town’s take on plastic ban is mixed bag

September 22, 2018

GREENWICH — Nearly two weeks into Greenwich’s ban on single-use plastic bags, all but a handful of businesses are in compliance with the new ordinance, according to town officials.

Greenwich’s Environmental Commission, which enforces the ban, reported that nine businesses were still using plastic bags or paper bags that don’t fit the ordinance’s specifications.

But those businesses have been allowed to do so through hardship exemptions from the town, officials said.

Some businesses bought paper bags without the required wording about being reusable, the paper bag delivery was delayed for one business, and the rest needed to use up the remainder of single-use plastic bags before they purchased paper bags, according to the commission.

The Representative Town Meeting approved the plastic bag ban in March after lobbying by BYO Greenwich and others.

Under the ordinance, which went into effect Sept. 12, Greenwich businesses may dispense only reusable and recycled paper checkout bags. Exemptions include bags used for dry-cleaned clothing, newspapers, and food items such as produce, meat, fish, flowers, bulk foods, bread and cheese. The use of reusable bag is encouraged.

But vigilant customers have noticed plastic bags at some stores and have reported them to the town, said Patricia Sesto, director of environmental affairs.

“A number of customers ... have spoken with me ... and said, ‘Hey, I was up at Staples and they’re using plastic bags,’” Sesto said. “People are asking questions, which helps us get in contact with the store managers and bring them into compliance.”

Businesses that don’t follow the new ordinance will first receive a written warning from the Environmental Commission. If an additional violation occurs after the warning, the business will be fined $150. Fines for third or subsequent violations are $250.

No businesses have been fined yet, Sesto said, adding that those who are not in compliance are working to achieve it.

The adjustment has been easy for some Greenwich shoppers, including Bing Christianson. She said that plastic bags were never available in the Philippines, her home country, so she’s always carried reusable shopping bags.

“If I don’t have a bag, I just carry the products out with me (in my arms),” she said.

Darien resident Jenn Montesano said she wasn’t aware of the ban when she was shopping in Greenwich, but she was pleasantly surprised to receive a recycled paper bag to carry her purchase from the CVS on Greenwich Avenue.

Diane Raso, a New Canaan mother of three, said she supports the ordinance because of its positive impact on the environment.

“I support anything for the new generation, for our kids to have the best air,” she said. “I love the planet and you have to save the planet. This is one step and you gotta start somewhere.”

Other shoppers are not as keen on the change.

“It’s been very inconvenient,” said Gina Valle, a New Yorker who works in Greenwich.

Valle said she was caught by surprise during a recent stop at a Greenwich grocery store when she was given two paper bags to carry out several heavy items.

“All I could think was, if I was elderly, how would I get to my car?” she said.

Valle questioned whether the ban is actually more environmentally friendly than its alternative.

“If they show me that it does (help the environment), then I’d be happy to go along with it, but I really don’t see it,” she said. “(A plastic bag) will probably be used four or five more times. I wouldn’t use a brown paper bag over and over. I throw it out because by the time I get home with it, it’s all disheveled.”

Barry Kaplan, a sales manager at Poly-Pak Industries, a business that manufactures plastic bags on Long Island, said the use of plastic bags has been unnecessarily politicized and demonized.

“The reality is that it’s not plastic’s fault when you see bag up in tree or in a sewer or in a river,” he said. “The plastic didn’t walk there on its own. It was obviously not disposed of properly.”

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