STONINGTON — Public reaction to a potential ban on plastic carryout bags and plastic straws was overwhelmingly positive at the Plastic Bags and Straws Ad Hoc Committee public hearing Tuesday night at Stonington High School.
“Primarily people were completely in favor, which was great,” said Moira Deasy, who chairs of the committee. “As a matter of fact, there was a lot of ‘What are we going to do beyond this.’”
About 40 people attended the hearing, which included a PowerPoint presentation detailing some of the committee’s research and recommendations.
In August, the Board of Selectmen asked the committee to investigate and make recommendations on a possible ordinance or other action prohibiting, regulating and/or reducing the use of plastic bags and straws in town.
The committee researched similar ordinances in other New England coastal towns and met with their town officials, businesses and environmental representatives. Members of the group also reviewed environmental research, business impacts and the compliance requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“We’re going to follow on Newport’s experience,” Deasy said. “We’re going to do a townwide campaign, create a logo, and we have business owners who will pay for the reusable bags.”
“That’s what it’s about, inclusion and education, it’s going to be about getting the community involved,” she added.
The ordinance would provide exemptions for plastic bags used for dry-cleaning, newspaper delivery, pet waste, yard waste, and prescription drugs. Also exempted would be garbage bags and door-hanger bags and thin plastic “barrier bags” used to carry fruit, vegetables, bakery goods, or frozen foods.
Committee member Stephanie Hayes-Houlihan, who is co-owner of the Water Street Cafe, said not one business owner at the hearing said the change would be too expensive to implement.
“I’ve never carried plastic bags and I don’t use plastic to-go containers. For the last year I’ve been trying to find an alternative to the little plastic stirrers,” she said. “There’s an additional cost but it can be offset. I think it’s just the principle of it, a moral obligation to the environment, to the community.”
Tim Lebling, owner of Wakin’ up Waggin’, the Coy Cafe at Westerly Library and the cafe at the Savoy Bookshop, said going green has been a business-friendly move.
“When we went strawless in Westerly at the Savoy, we’ve had 100 percent support from our customers,” he said. “It’s been about two months now and we’re just using up our straws and then we’re going strawless.”
Alternatives for plastic straws include compostable straws, hay straws and pasta straws, but Lebling also offers reusable straws for sale.
“I’m selling metal straws at my cost just so people will use them and we also give incentives for people who come in with reusable cups, we’ll give them a percentage off,” he said. “All of the coffee shops in the area are selling some type of reusable straws — like glass straws — it’s great to see that, we didn’t initiate it, we just did our part.”
It’s more expensive to “go green” but customers have compensated by supporting his businesses more because they want to use environmentally friendly materials, Lebling said.
“I can say it’s not costing our business anything because we’re getting more support for our business for not using straws,” he said. “It’s not slowing anything down.”
If the Board of Selectman passes an ordinance, Deasy said the committee will have six months to put together a public campaign.
“We’ll have six months for implementation and during that time we’ll be able to educate the public,” she said. “And it also gives business owners the opportunity to use up any stock they purchased.”
She also said one of the recommendations to the Board of Selectmen will be the long-term continuation of the ad hoc committee.
“It should move from being an ad hoc committee to a full-time town committee,” she said. “And that was the feedback from the public as well. We already had that in mind as a group. It makes sense.”