There are hundreds of bills filed in this session of the state Legislature, and it might come as a surprise to readers of this space that I agree with these two: action to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags by retailers and their customers and placing a deposit on the so-called “nip” bottles of alcoholic beverages.
Reducing use of plastic bags: My wife Cathy and I came to this conclusion by way of two experiences: our around-the-world adventure and ownership of a home located on Cliff Island, Maine, which is part of the city of Portland.
We visited countries in Asia (that shall remain nameless) that have a severe — and I mean severe — overabundance of litter, and much of it is in the form of these ubiquitous white plastic retail shopping bags. These countries do not have the infrastructure to properly dispose of the amount of trash their burgeoning economies and populations are producing, nor do they have a culture whose inhabitants have been taught to avoid littering. It is a real blot on these otherwise fascinating and beautiful lands, and it was very sad to see.
The trip also educated us that this is now a worldwide problem, especially in the Pacific Ocean region. One of our lecturers on the ship introduced us to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch “also described as the Pacific Trash Vortex … a gyre of marine debris particles in the north central Pacific Ocean.” (Wikipedia). “An estimated 80,000 metric tons of plastic inhabit the patch, totaling 1.8 trillion pieces.” (again, taken from Wikipedia) This gyre covers an area twice the size of Texas. And our ship sailed right through it from Hawaii to Los Angeles and, indeed, we saw evidence of it as it did.
While the United States is not the source of most of this junk, certainly it is time for us to lead the way toward a solution. And one simple local answer is to use better judgment in the use of retail plastic bags. We have experienced a down-to-earth solution in effect in several Maine communities, including Portland and my brother’s community of Brunswick. Brunswick has outright banned the use of them by retail establishments. Portland has opted to have retail merchants charge customers 5 cents per bag (and has allowed the merchant to keep the money).
I would actually advocate having a local ordinance if the state doesn’t act. It is easy to enforce, will have an easily measurable effect on our local environment, and will act as a positive change in behavior that is not punitive. I prefer the 5-cent assessment solution but either one will achieve the desired end without much aggravation to either retailers or their customers.
Deposit on “nips”: For many years, I have participated in the annual spring volunteer litter cleanups sponsored by the Town, and I have been disgusted by the number of these little plastic bottles I have found on the side of our roads — especially Route 5. It speaks to several things, but primarily the conclusion that most of the booze in these bottles is being consumed as people drive down the road. That it itself is enough of a reason to put a deposit on these little pieces of litter, but the additional advantage of discouraging disposal by tossing them out the window makes a deposit worth the trouble and inconvenience it may cause package store owners.
But the deposit needs to be way higher than the suggested 5 cents. That won’t change this slovenly littering behavior; 25 cents per bottle, on the other hand, will have two desired effects. First if all, it will hopefully make consumers of these products really think twice before they waste a quarter by tossing the empty bottle away. Secondly, it will encourage some people that it is worth their while to scavenge parks, roadways, and the parking lots of package stores — where the vast majority of this litter is found — and return them for the deposit.
Again, I would advocate that the funds generated be left with the retailer that sells this product or the redemption center that recovers money from the distributor. Unfortunately, this being the Peoples Republic of Connecticut, no doubt it will somehow turn into a tax gimmick. But we can dream, can’t we?
I decry most nanny-state nonsense that comes out of Hartford, but this is behavior modification that requires almost no public funds for enforcement and provides an immediate and noticeable improvement in our local environment. Plastic has had a remarkable impact on our standard of living, but at a cost. We should take these small steps now before we accumulate so much plastic litter that drastic measures are required to clean up the mess.
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.
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