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Plastic bag ban called ‘first step’ for Norwalk

Norwalk Common Council Ordinance Committee Chairwoman Eloisa Melendez (D-District A) shows off one of her reusable shopping bags, Tuesday in City Hall.

Updated, 5:49 p.m.: Poll added. Vote yes or no, do you approve of the ban? 8:46 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk has banned plastic carryout shopping bags. Plastic straws may be next.

Rounds of applause punctuated Tuesday’s Council meeting, where Council members voted unanimously to ban plastic shopping bags and then received a standing ovation.  Mayor Harry Rilling noted afterwards that standing ovations for the Common Council are rare.

“Why now? Climate change is real, it’s happening. It’s not an opinion, it’s a fact,” Council Ordinance Committee Chairwoman Eloisa Melendez (D-District A) said. “Although this is for some people a drop in the bucket when it comes to dealing with things affecting our environment, especially given the fact that this is a very real thing that’s happening – not only in Norwalk, not only in Fairfield County, our state, our country, but in the world – we still shouldn’t feel we are powerless in this fight to deal with climate change.”

Council chambers were packed.  Late arrivals stood or sat on the steps.

“We all know how important it is,” Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) said.  Livingston described Norwalk’s measure as a “hybrid ordinance,” because it bans the use of plastic bags and discourages the use of paper bags by imposing a 10-cent fee on them.  “This has been shown to be the most effective type of ordinance,” he said.

More than 20 citizens spoke in favor of the ban.  Some offered criticisms in addition to support.

Marny Smith shows off one of her many reusable bags, Tuesday in City Hall.

“It’s not such a hard thing to go without plastic bags. I have been keeping returnable bags for years,” Marny Smith said. “… It’s not a big deal. I can carry two of them in each hand. As I said, I’m 86 so don’t tell me that an old woman can’t handle recycling their bags.”

“All of us here know how plastic bags are affecting everyone in our society however at school not everyone knows about the harm that plastic bags can cause,” said Roton Middle School student Roshni Yousuf. “… The plastic bag {ban} you are proposing is a great step in the right direction of making Norwalk more ecofriendly.”

“My understanding is that 65 percent of the plastic bags that were produced when I learned to drive (in 1966) are still in the environment,” Kevin Tepaz said. “My understanding is that the number of plastic bags that is produced every year continues to grow and is astounding. My understanding is that the damage this does to the environment is astounding and all I am going to suggest to the Council is the only other astounding thing would be that we don’t do something about it when we have the chance to do it.”

Person-to-Person (P2P) Executive Director Ceci Maher said the organization gives out about 53,000 bags a year as part of its food assistance program and has been looking at ways to provide reusable bags, but track the bags and also educate clients.  The organization expects to receive 8,000 reusable bags as donations but that’s a long way from 53,000, she said.

“We are all in favor, and many clients are very much in favor,” she said.

Marlene Harrick said she supported the ban but also wondered how it would affect her work as a homecare provider.
“I don’t look forward to taking wet diapers into a paper bag to be tossed out,” she said. “What do you propose?”

Dog lovers “don’t exactly pick up dog waste with paper bags or paper towels,” she said.

Most Council members spoke in favor of the ban, before voting to approve it.

“I see it as a minor inconvenience to shoppers that will quickly turn into routine,” John Kydes (D-District C) said. “If that minor inconvenience can shed light and raise awareness for our deteriorating environment then I am in full support.”

“I think it does more than a drop in the bucket,” Colin Hosten (D-At Large) said.  Hosten noted that Kroger, the nation’s largest grocery store chain, is banning plastic bags because they are “the fourth- or fifth-highest plastic seen in waterways.”  The meeting was Hosten’s first following his appointment last month.

Darlene Young (D-District B), also attending her first Council meeting after being appointed last month, said she had planned to abstain but was moved by the young people who spoke up in support of the ban.

“We all need to do what we have to do for a future generation,” she said.

Doug Hempstead (R-District D), the Common Council’s lone Republican, said he had been chairman of the Public Works Committee when Norwalk instituted recycling.

“I understand the importance of trying to take all this stuff out of the environment.  Sometimes these things lead you down a path of re-energizing and looking at other things that you never knew or thought about, about plastics that are entering our system,” Hempstead said.

Microplastics are entering the environment via laundry machines because they are in polymer textile clothing, Phys.org reports.

Hempstead said Norwalk’s bag ban should be a stepping stone, and that a ban of plastic straws could be next.

“Let’s be bold and let’s tackle some other things,” he said.  The crowd applauded.

“I do believe in global warming, FYI, It’s partially manmade, trust me, I know it,” he said.  “Let’s talk about composting leaves locally.”

“A lot of hard work and time and energy” went into the ordinance “to get it right,” Rilling said. “…This is a challenge now to move forward. We are going to throw that challenge down tonight.”

Rilling said he met with State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) Tuesday, and Duff assured him “that as this movement starts to grow the state will take it on and the state will move forward with a state-wide plastic ban.”

Dick Harris speaks to Norwalk citizens, Tuesday in City Hall.

20 comments

Alan January 9, 2019 at 8:31 am

Do not forget to shut Millstone.
Don’t forget to ban all fossil fuels and NatGas power plants.
Did anyone mention styofoam? Bunker fuel for ships?
How about those Eversource charges for Green energy that were swept into the General fund? How did the bottle deposits work out? Most of that money goes into the general fund as well.Paint “recycling” fee. same. Mattress “recycling” fee. Same.
This is intrusive feel-good legislation that does nothing but make you feel good.
Enjoy!

Norwalk Lost January 9, 2019 at 9:12 am

This is great news for plastic bag manufactures. Shoppers can now purchase bags to reline their garbage containers rather than simply reuse their shopping bags. . . but such good theater and simply serves as intra-govt back patting/ diversion for a failing and ineffective local govt. With Norwalk’s glide path trajectory towards a Bridgeport solution with higher taxes and declining property values, voters must expect more than this ruse. It is no wonder Trump is President as the left continues to show their thirst to intrude into every aspect of our daily lives.

Debora Goldstein January 9, 2019 at 9:26 am

One prominent citizen has been asking the council to compost leaves locally for the entire time I’ve lived here.

Some of us already do.

You want to make a difference. How about banning cheap, low efficiency leaf blowers, which vents poison and allergens ito the air, infects us with noise pollution, and disturbs the natural ability for top soil to perform its valuable environmental functions?

Will you consider banning cheaply manufactured, redundant, disposable, plastic products sold via paid programming, almost all of which come with batteries that no one accepts for recycling?

I don’t think the plastic bag ban is bad, but i think the charge for paper belongs with the retailer, not on the customer. This virtue signaling is punitive to the people who can least afford it.

While you are saving other wildlife, the City has actively convinced Eversource to put its transmission lines below the Harbor, in an area and manner likely to contaminate the shellfish, solely in the name of aesthetics and to protect the property values of two property owners on Water Street.

And it has yet to say anything about the Aquarion plan to draw down up to 10% of the water from the river, which will likely be done during drought conditions and have substantial impacts on the temperature, turbidity and salinity for marine life in the harbor.

Will Erdef January 9, 2019 at 9:27 am

Without a statewide ban, I’m not sure this accomplished anything but a shoppers inconvenience and also huringt local businesses. Why would shoppers who prefer plastic bags simply not shop in nearby towns? Further, the plastic shopping ban is merely a dent in the wide usage of plastics across the retail spectrum.

Alan January 9, 2019 at 9:49 am

Darien does not want you. Westport and Stamford are joining the parade. BigY has announced they are discontinuing.It is the flavor of the day!
Are you really going to shop in Bridgeport? Danbury? New Canaan?
There will be more to come,to save the planet,but one thing is certain…people will still be driving to the meetings to plan legislation that intrudes on your freedom to choose.

James Cahn January 9, 2019 at 10:01 am

I’m excited about this because when it is actually enforced, I’d encourage all of Norwalk’s taxpayers to incessantly insist that our council members also enforce all the other revenue creating ordinances which we are told we don’t have the resources to enforce: Illegal apartments being incorrectly taxed and in violation of health and fire codes, blight, the grid-lock boxes, failure to properly shovel sidewalks when it snows, using your property as a junk yard to store 10 unregistered motor vehicles, using your yard as a junk yard to store your pile of garbage for “safe keeping” and all the others.

Now at first, our council people may be “inconvenienced” by this insistent encouragement since they’re, as they regularly remind us, “only volunteers.”

But they shouldn’t worry and know that I’m encouraging this inconvenience purposely, for their own collective good. As a tax payer, I know what’s best for statists even if they don’t think so. It may only be a small step but hopefully it will encourage the lifestyle change that our council members all need.

The joke though, as the council knows, is really on me because they don’t have the ability, will, commitment or infrastructure to enforce this. So they’ll be perfectly safe to pursue some other silly pet issue on behalf of one of their friends’ without fear of being accountability-badgered.

Steve Mann January 9, 2019 at 10:32 am

It’s somewhat regrettable that the NPD will now have to focus on citing plastic bag evil-doing planet haters, which will certainly take their attention away from the amazing job they do if traffic violation enforcement. How about we appoint a citywide legion of Bag People to make sure our streets, and sewers remain safe??

carol January 9, 2019 at 11:09 am

with all the problems norwalk has,this is the best they can due.what other infringes on our personal lives are they going to enforce. food is expensive enough,now the stores will have to charge more to have you use paper etc. wake up folks and take your blinders off.

Bryan Meek January 9, 2019 at 11:15 am

Paper bags have a much higher carbon footprint than plastic. Of course the forests that are harvested, and the fuel that is consumed, and the chemicals that are used to refine paper, and the trucks that have to deliver logs to refineries, then bags to stores will mostly never hit Connecticut, so it feels really good, but actually increases entropy in the environment.

Plastics are a byproduct of the petrochemical refining process and need to be disposed of somehow. If they don’t go into consumer uses, they’ll need to go somewhere as long as we use petroleum, which there is over a 200 year supply of still by some measures.

We could have been progressive here and recycled our plastics into other uses like park benches, patios, and outdoor furniture for our parks or private consumption, but i guess that doesn’t feel as good as telling the world you banned plastic bags.

Other towns are doing this. http://Www.trex.com/recycling for one. But for some reason we stopped accepting these in our recycling bins. Why?

And can someone please tell me where the 12 yard container of plastic toys that fills up at the dump every week goes?

Teacher January 9, 2019 at 11:39 am

A solution in search of a problem. With all that is facing Norwalk, the walk bridge, the BOE Budget, Blight, Wall Street, etc…. this is what we are focused on. Come on people. I knew the Council leaned Left… but seriously…

Bryan Meek January 9, 2019 at 1:24 pm

@Deb. Home recycling is at our doorstep and there is massive R&D and capital going into numerous startups. I wish I could tell who the winner is and make some serious money, but have to hedge bets for now. Anyway, the future is nearly here and it will be a home shredder that converts your old plastics into ingots for your 3D printer. You’ll be able to turn your old toys, plastic cups, and bags into reusable items or even lego pieces. It’s bleeding edge right now and clearly beyond the vision of a local government, but it’s coming. Too bad the city can’t find some “innovation” dollars for such a concept or on a larger and different scale invest in a low emission incinerator that could vaporize our garbage and convert it into electricity. The King site would be a perfect spot when they leave soon.

Mitch Adis January 9, 2019 at 7:01 pm

Will we enforce this as vigorously as we do our other laws in Norwalk? If that’s the case, the ban is a “Paper Tiger”.

Piberman January 9, 2019 at 9:15 pm

Plastic bags looks like the best our Council can do. Reducing City operating costs and property taxes is much too difficult. As is looking into the Reval fiasco. Plastic bags lets everyone once agiain know that Nowalk is poorly governed. It’s an old story in One Party towns and cities.

Tysen Canevari January 10, 2019 at 7:48 am

Stew Leonard must be so proud of the common council that are banning his plastic bags. Will the common council go around and hand out replacements? Maybe they should spend some time examining the pay scale of some of Norwalk’s employees. Did you know one of the wonderful ladies in the tax office makes $138000 a year to sit at the window? The woman next to her makes $55000 to do the same job! Can you say mind boggling! Lets worry about plastic bags though because that will make the news. WWhen does common sense prevail?

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