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Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance Moves To Public Hearing

Published: May 16, 2019 at 04:00 pm

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At its regular meeting this week, the Legislative Council moved a proposed plastic bag reduction ordinance to a June 5 public hearing. The proposal was approved with Councilmen Dan Wiedemann and Phil Carroll opposed.

Ryan Knapp, chairman of the ordinance committee, motioned to send the proposal — a ban on businesses providing plastic check-out bags — to public hearing. The proposal includes language permitting reusable bags and/or recyclable paper bags.

“A business shall charge at minimum, a 10-cent user fee per paper bags,” the ordinance language proposes.

Despite brief differences of opinion on the ordinance’s content, specifically regarding whether the 10-cent fee should be applied for using a store’s paper check-out bags, the council’s action Wednesday was not meant for debate.

Members needed to approve, or not, a motion to go to public hearing, and Chairman Paul Lundquist, among others, felt the time has come for the public’s input. The council members also could have pushed the proposal back to the ordinance committee.

Clarifying the council’s action Wednesday, Judit DeStefano asked, “We’re not deliberating, just moving to put this to public hearing?”

Council Chair Paul Lundquist said, “We’re not debating content.”

Mr Wiedemann said, “I do not agree with the [10-cent] charge. I agree with getting rid of plastic bags.” He said he “would like to see” the proposed ordinance sent back to the ordinance committee and come back to the council “without the charge” before the council moves it to a public hearing.

Chris Smith said the ordinance committee had been “working at this for over a year… I think we’re at the stage where we need a public hearing.”

Mr Carroll also preferred to send the proposal back to the ordinance committee. Regarding the 10-cent fee, he said, “The town shouldn’t tell stores what to charge.” He said, “If you want a ban, that’s one thing, but forcing people to pay?”

He felt that the fee was “padding the bill for the grocery store.”

Ms DeStefano said, “This is really just check-out bags this applies to.” She said she has seen some misinformation regarding bags, but said people are encouraged to “bring their own bags,” while shopping.

Jordana Bloom supported the 10-cent fee, saying it “helps the merchants.” Without the fee, the merchant “has to give the paper bag to someone.” She said, “We don’t want to hurt the merchants.”

The point of banning plastic bags is to hopefully “change consumer behavior,” she said. Ms Bloom mentioned that among the handful of towns in the state that have passed plastic bag bans without a fee, “That’s what they wish they had done.”

Just prior to the vote, Mr Lundquist said, “All comments are rational,” and have been “part of the conversation of the past year.” But, rather than sending things back to the ordinance committee, he said, “It’s time to let the public weigh in.”

The public hearing regarding the Draft Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance is Wednesday, June 5, at 7 pm, in Council Chambers at the Newtown Municipal Center.

NEAT Data Sheet

Newtown Environmental Action Team (NEAT) members will have data sheets with plastic bag and paper bag statistics that they will be handing out at the June 5 hearing, said NEAT member Lynn Hungaski.

The information they have assembled regarding single-use plastic bags includes, “100 billion plastic bags are used per year in the United States,” and half a billion are used per year “in Connecticut alone.”

The data sheet lists that the bags “harm over 250 marine and other animals,” and, “Scientists think that by the year 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.”

The NEAT data sheet mentions the “floating plastic garbage heaps in our oceans.”

Neat also includes information it has gathered on paper bags. Their data states, “Paper bags emit 70 percent more emissions during manufacturing than do plastic bags,” and “It takes eight times more gasoline to transport them.”

According to their data, “It takes an enormous amount of water to manufacture the pulp from which the paper is made.” The list includes 11 points against the use of paper bags.

Ordinance FAQs

On May 16, Mr Knapp published a series of questions and answers about the ordinance on social media. He writes that the post was, "simply answering common questions referencing what is already public information, and is not advocacy either way. These are my understandings and are not legal advice or in any way binding. These comments are my own and not on behalf of the Legislative Council of which I am a member."

The text of his post states:

What is proposed?

The proposed ordinance would ban Business Establishments from providing most single use plastic bags in Newtown (with some noted exceptions) and mandate Business Establishments charge a minimum fee of 10 cents per bag, to be noted on their itemized receipt.

Is this a tax?

The proposed ordinance compels business entities charge a “user fee” for most paper bags. The revenue generated by the fee for paper bags would be retained by the store. It would not go to the Town as was proposed in an earlier draft.

What if the state passes a ban or tax?

State statute supersedes ordinance, so we can go further but not do less. A current proposal in Hartford includes taxing 10 cents, with revenue to go to the state, for either paper or plastic bags. If this passes Newtown can still ban plastic bags. Our fee would not compound with a state tax, rather the retailers could collect 10 cents, and use those revenues to satisfy the proposed state tax.

Who does this apply to?

This ordinance would apply to "Business Establishments" in Newtown which per the ordinance means "any person, business or non-profit entity that sells or provides merchandise, goods or materials, including, without limitation, clothing, food, or personal items of any kind, directly to a consumer, and includes, by way of example and not limitation, any grocery store, grocery delivery service, department store, hardware store, pharmacy, liquor store, restaurant, catering truck, convenience store, hospital, library, school, including temporary vendors at farmers markets, street fairs and school or Town sponsored events and facilities. Provided, however, Business Establishment shall not apply to yard sales, tag sales and other sales by residents at their homes."

What is exempted?

Per the ordinance "1. Newspaper bags, door-hanger bags, laundry dry cleaning bags, 2. Bags sold in packages containing multiple bags intended for use as garbage, pet waste bags, yard waste bags 3. Bags without handles that are used by consumers inside stores to package bulk items; such as fasteners, nuts and bolts; produce, nuts, grains, candy, meat, or fish, whether packaged or not; and unwrapped prepared foods or bakery goods 4. Bags used to carry flowers, potted plants or other items where dampness may be a problem; 5. Bags used to carry pharmacy prescriptions; or items that required bags to safeguard public health during the transportation of hospital waste. 6. Any other bags that the enforcement officer deems to not fit the definition or intent of a carryout bag" are exempted.

What about restaurant take out?

"Restaurants and establishments offering freshly prepared foods are exempted from the requirement to charge for paper bags."

What about paper bags that do not break down?

"Business Establishment making available non-recyclable paper bags or bags that do not meet the re-cyclability content requirements set forth in this ordinance (for example paper bags bearing a logo) may charge a minimum of fifteen-cent (15¢) per bag."

What if a Business Establishment does not comply?

Under the proposed ordinance, "if the investigation confirms that a violation has occurred, then the Enforcement Authority shall give written notice, by in-hand service or certified mail, to the violator or his or its designee, to cease desist the offending activity within fourteen (14) days of receipt of the notice. Upon receipt of the notice of violation, the Business Establishment or its representative shall demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Enforcement Authority or its representative that the offending activity has ceased within the fourteen (14) day period . Failure to correct said violation within the said fourteen (14) day period shall result in a penalty of $100. Each day that the violation continues subsequent to the aforesaid fourteen (14) day period shall constitute a separate violation (in the amount of $100 per day) until said violation shall cease as verified by the Enforcement Authority or its representative."

What if I want to give comment [and cannot] make it to the Public Hearing?

Residents are always welcome to submit comment electronically. You can contact the entire Legislative Council by clicking HERE.

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