standing Stonington Town Hall

STONINGTON — After an overwhelmingly positive response to the Nov. 13 public hearing on a potential plastic carry-out bag and plastic straw ordinance, members of the Plastic Bags and Straws Ad Hoc Committee hammered out details concerning education and enforcement Tuesday night.

The committee will present the ordinance to the Board of Selectman on Nov. 28 at 7 p.m. at the Stonington Police Department.  

In August, the Board of Selectmen formed the committee and gave it 90 days to research and formulate an ordinance prohibiting, regulating and/or reducing the use of plastic bags and straws.

If the Board of Selectmen approve the ordinance, it will go to a town meeting for a public vote. If the ordinance is approved by the public, then it will be put into law six months fromthe public vote. 

Members of the committee will ask the Board of Selectmen to make the committee permanent so that it can administer the roll-out of the ordinance, especially in the realm of educating the public about how the new law will affect the town and its businesses and promoting green practices. 

The committee will recommend an ordinance that emulates Newport’s successful ban on retail plastic bags and straws, which emphasized education in its roll-out. 

“The [Newport] website is all about not just the ordinance but how local people can make an impact with this and even take it a step further in their lives,” said committee member Beth Markowski-Roop, who is on the board of the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce. “It’s how businesses can adopt it and make it part of their culture and and take it a step and embrace it in the community — it’s all about education.” 

Communities that educated the public before launching the ordinance were by and large successful whereas those that passed the ordinance without a public outreach experienced negative issues during implementation, said Markowski-Roop. 

Also at issue was whether to fine businesses for noncompliance and, if so, how much and by whom.

Initially, the committee included a fine of up to $1,000 for businesses that violate the ordinance, which mirrored Newport’s policy, but that was deemed exorbitant for small businesses by committee member Stephanie Hayes-Houlihan, co-owner of the Water Street Cafe. The fine was changed to $150, which would be administered if the business did not comply within 14 days after receiving a warning letter. 

An agent appointed by the town would enforce the ordinance, but that entity was not defined or named by the committee. 

Exemptions from the ordinance would include plastic bags used for laundry dry-cleaning, newspaper delivery, pet waste, yard waste, and prescription drugs. Also exempted were garbage bags, door-hanger bags and the type of thin plastic bags, known as “barrier bags, used to transport fruit, vegetables, bakery goods, or frozen foods. 

Several members of the committee wanted to know what items the town could reduce next, such as styrofoam containers and dry-cleaning bags. 

Moira Deasy, committee chair, said it was best to take a slow approach to the problem. 

“This is a culture shift to begin with and I’m a little reticent to put in any language about what we’re going to do next because I think to embrace a culture you just have to start with slow, inclusive change,” she said.

Markowski-Roop said other towns have been successful in implementing incremental change. 

“Barrington, Rhode Island, had a year’s success and now they’re taking a next step to add something else to that,” she said. “We need to pass this and get people educated first — you’ve got to walk before you can run.”

chewitt@thewesterlysun.com