BYO Branford seeks town ordinance to limit single-use plastic bags

BRANFORD — Branford’s Valerie Petrillo always brings her own bags to the supermarket.

For her, it’s a habit.

Leighton Davis doesn’t. He never thinks twice about using single-use plastic bags. Likewise for, Michele Malerba, who reuses her plastic bags on walks with Romeo, her mixed breed dog.

Enter BYO Branford, a hearty band of 12 that’s seeking to promote a shift in their fellow citizens toward the use of reusable bags.

The group, whose name is an acronym for Bring Your Own — but in this case reusable bags — recently met with merchants at Willoughby Wallace Library to gather feedback and field questions on its proposed ordinance to limit single-use plastic bags used at checkout in local stores. It plans to bring the draft ordinance before the Representative Town Meeting in the near future, together with a petition of more than 800 names supporting the measure.

“From other towns that have passed the ordinance, we know it’s not going to harm retailers or be detrimental to them,” said BYO Branford member Meg Kilgore. “That’s what we want to get across.”

The group, she said, “is here to educate and motivate citizens and assist merchants toward becoming plastic-bag free.”

For Kilgore, limiting the use of plastic bags is crucial not only for Branford but also goes to the well-being of the planet.

“The largest contributor of plastic pollution in oceans is single-use plastic bags,” she said. “Sixty-thousand bags are used every five seconds. On average, people use a bag for 12 minutes and it takes hundreds of years to decompose. Only 1 to 3 percent of those are recycled.”

The impact te bags make is profound, according to Kilgore, and not just in oceans.

“They clog storm drains and litter the landscape,” she said. “They get tangled in trees. If nothing else, they’re an eyesore in our beautiful town.”

Further, Long Island Soundkeeper Bill Lucey said, “they end up in the Sound, where they’re a death sentence for birds, sea turtles, and fish that get ensnared in them, or mistake them for jellyfish, ingest them, and die from intestinal blockage.”

Once they’re out there, he added, “it wreaks havoc. It degrades into smaller and smaller pieces and becomes toxic. We find this stuff in the water. It’s in the fish we eat. It’s on our beaches.”

Westport and Greenwich, as well as 80 cities and towns in Massachusetts, the states of California and Hawaii, and 32 countries, have banned single-use plastic bags. Guilford, Stamford, Norwalk, Newtown, Waterford and Mansfield are working toward encouraging their towns to consider a ban.

“It’s just a habit,” said Diana Staley, owner of West Main Street’s Reverie Kitchen, which uses 100 percent recyclable materials for its take-out orders. “It takes the same effort to purchase less recycled materials than fully recycled materials.”

Some larger retailers also are making an effort to change the habits of their customers. For example, signs in the Big Y parking lot and emblazoned on its single-use plastic bags encourage shoppers to “join Big Y in our effort to eliminate single use and paper bags” and “Go Green,” and the reusable bags available to purchase for $1 at every register.

As a possible result, more and more shoppers are bringing their own bags, said one cashier who asked not to be named.

But BYO Branford members said that’s not enough. Studies show that education alone does not alter behavior on bag use. More than that, the numbers of plastic bag use is staggering. Last month, the Hartford Courant reported consumer in the state used a billion plastic shopping bags last year.

“As members of a community, we accept regulations imposed on us every day,” said BYO Branford member Kate Galambos. “We’re not allowed to litter. We have to wear a seatbelt. When we hear that 100,000 single-use plastic bags are ending up in Long Island Sound each year, it means voluntary compliance hasn’t achieved the desired result.”

For those who maintain that single-use plastic bags are convenient, BYO Branford member Marge Schneider was sympathetic. For a long time, she said, “they seemed like the perfect product to keeping our food fresh.” And there are exceptions to the ban, she added, such as butcher meat bags, for health and safety reasons, as well as dry cleaner bags and newspaper bags.

Still, “now we know that the plastics never go away and kill fish and marine life and are a terrible environmental hazard,” she said, citing a draft ordinance on single-use plastic bags by Stephen Latham, director of the Yale University Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics.

Yes, some, like Malerba, may contend that they reuse the plastic bags from the supermarket for an essential daily purpose. “The harmful polluting effects remain the same,” said Lucey.

Davis said that if Branford were to adopt an ordinance banning plastic bags, he would comply.

“It’ll just be a matter of learning to live without them,” he said. “I can do that.”

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