Letter: Fix the recycling laws before imposing plastic bag ban

Letter submitted by Brooks Harris, RTM District 10

After many years of tending to my own and my family’s business, this year I decided to give back some of my time to the community by running for Greenwich’s Representative Town Meeting (the RTM). I did it out of a desire to help manage a town which is a very complicated enterprise run with a large amount of volunteer input. Most of the issues discussed are local, and I try to view them with a filter of, “how will this issue affect the people living on my street who might care but are too busy with their own lives to get involved.” This means a high priority to quality of life. Effective government services at the most reasonable prices possible and a minimum of restricting liberty while not allowing abuses. Sounds easy!

I am writing today to discuss the proposed ban on plastic bags which will become a law if passed by the RTM next month. On the surface this is a noble effort. No one likes trash and everyone wants a clean environment. It is a top priority for us and our children. While the intentions of this plastic bag ban are good, the results may not be. The first question to consider is, “do we have problem that needs addressing?” In Greenwich all plastic bags must be recycled and are accepted at our single stream recycling plant. That is the law and a good one. We all spend time sorting our garbage, and I hope it is time well spent. I assume this effort works because it is very rare to see a stray plastic bag in Greenwich (I have been looking hard over the last few months as this bill has been percolating in the RTM), and I have been told plastic bags are not a major contributor to filling our dumps. If these observations are wrong, why would we not try to fix the recycling laws before going to the extreme measure of an outright ban?

One of the major premises of the proposal to ban plastic bags is that it will cause little inconvenience and have little cost. One flyer in support of the bill defensively states that this bill does not represent a tax. Perhaps this is technically true, but this bill will have a cost to our community. The “unintended” consequences really need to be considered up front. Firstly, this will likely cost Greenwich business at a time when we do not need such an outflow. Some people will just drive to Port Chester or Stamford to grocery shop for the convenience. Some jurisdictions like Dallas who passed restrictions on plastic bag use rescinded them due to “unintended” consequences and lawsuits. Other cities, like San Francisco, found people were getting sick because of germ build up in the reusable bags. Apparently, they are pretty hard to clean.

Finally, the option to buy paper bags for $0.25 each is little help. This is expensive, particularly for our less affluent. And if people supposedly won’t recycle their plastic bags, why do we think they will recycle these? That could be even worse for the environment.

I have discussed this with my neighbors, and opinions are mixed. Certainly, some want to “do their part” to help the environment. Many in this camp are quite passionate. In general, though, what I have found is most do not want this bill but do not have the time nor the energy to have their voice heard. Isn’t that what they elect their neighbors to the RTM for? I suppose we will see. But there is something you can do if you want your voice heard. You can email RTM members. Your voice can matter, and you don’t have to run for office to be heard. Just reach out to your representatives who you can find through the following link: