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Sunday, May 26 News

Westport bans plastic straws, cups, Styrofoam at eateries

WESTPORT — Driven by the passion of its youngest member, the Representative Town Meeting unanimously passed a groundbreaking town ordinance Tuesday night, banning single-use plastics and Styrofoam at food-service businesses.

Six months from now, all food-service businesses will be required to find alternatives for single-use plastic containers, straws, stirrers and cups, transitioning to compostable and recyclable alternatives.

According to the originator of the ordinance, Andrew Colabella of District 4, Westport is the first community on the east coast to legislate such a far-reaching ban.

“Once again we’re leading by example,” he said, citing the town’s 2009 ban on plastic bags, which has recently been inspiring other communities to do likewise.

According to the ordinance, single-use plastics and expanded polystyrene “pose a threat to Westport’s aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. By prohibiting these items, Westport seeks to protect the environment, eliminate a major source of waste and protect the public health, safety and welfare of Westport and its citizens.”

There were 12 other RTM members who co-sponsored the ordinance, which several said has received strong support from the electorate.

“This is the right thing to do, clearly,” said Mark Friedman, District 3. “And we know it’s the popular thing to do because the citizens have reached out and made their voices heard.”

Current issues with the cost of recycling helped play a part in the decision. Where Westport was once able to sell its recycled waste for $20 per ton to foreign countries, it now must spend $65 per ton to have it taken, with that cost expected to rise.

“Recycling is not the future,” said Jack Egan, vice chair of the Surfrider Foundation’s Connecticut Chapter, who spoke on behalf of the ordinance.

“It ends up getting incinerated,” he said, making toxins airborne.

Pippa Bell Ader, vice chair of Sustainable Westport, said only 9 percent of all plastics even get to the recycling stage, with most of it just going to landfills.

“About 8 percent of the world’s oil production goes to make plastics,” she said, with that number expected to rise to 20 percent by 2050.

Alicia Mozian, conservation director, said the town should use its experience with the plastic bag ordinance to help guide the transition period and subsequent enforcement, which will fall to her department and to the Health Department.

“We are going to rely on the citizens to alert us to things that may not be in compliance, and then we’re going to go out and do the inspections,” she said, noting that resources demanded they be reactive rather than proactive.

At the same time, she said, they wanted to be sensitive to the transition period for businesses and hoped to engage with them throughout the process to help get them on board.

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“I think corporations and people in general, they want to be green, or at least appear to be green,” she said.

“There is a risk to the profitability of our stores,” noted Rick Jaffe, of District 1.

He described a local independent store, such as Stiles Farmers Market, would no longer be allowed to use its plastic containers to sell, for instance, grated cheese it packaged on the premises, and would instead need to invest in an alternative packaging option.

A chain supermarket, meanwhile, which will have received something pre-packaged from out of town that it sells, would not be required to change that according to the ordinance.

“We, the public, have to make sure that we shop at our local stores ... to compensate for any lost money they may experience,” Jaffe said.

He also noted it was important to “put pressure” on the stores that have qualified exceptions to work toward changing their practices.

Colabella said popular opinion is already putting pressure on large companies to make changes away from plastics and Styrofoam.

“A lot of these franchises are already very well aware,” he said, noting businesses like Dunkin Donuts, in many cases, already have alternatives available for use.

“They have noticed that the public has had an outcry,” he said, with public opinion influencing their models.

“I’m here to express my wholehearted support of this ordinance,” First Selectman Jim Marpe said.

“It reflects the values of Westport,” he said, which he described as “leading the way for other communities and practicing what we preach.”

“There are many details to be worked out,” Marpe said, but he called on citizen involvement to help shepherd the change through. “If you see something, say something.”

“We took a giant step and a leap for our earth, our environment and future generations. There’s a lot of work left to be done. This is only the beginning,” Colabella said.

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