BRANFORD — Branford’s Valerie Petrillo always brings her own bags to the supermarket. For her, it’s a habit. Leighton Davis doesn’t. He never thinks twice about using single-use plastic bags. Likewise, Michele Malerba, who reuses her plastic bags on walks with Romeo, her Yorkie-russell dog.
Enter BYO Branford, a hearty band of 12 that’s seeking to promote a shift in their fellow citizens toward the use of reusable bags.
Last Thursday, the group, an acronym for Bring Your Own reusable bag, met with merchants at Willoughby Wallace Library to gather feedback and field questions on its proposed ordinance to limit single-use plastic bags used at checkout. It plans to bring the draft ordinance before the RTM in the near future, together with a petition of over 800 names supporting the measure.
“From other towns that have passed the ordinance, we know it’s not going to harm retailers or be detrimental to them,” said BYO Branford member Meg Kilgore. “That’s what we want to get across.”
The group, she said, “is here to educate and motivate citizens and assist merchants toward becoming plastic-bag free.”
For Kilgore, limiting the use of plastic bags is crucial not only for Branford. It goes to the well-being of our planet.
“The largest contributor of plastic pollution in oceans is single-use plastic bags,” she said. “Sixty-thousand bags are used every five seconds. On average, people use a bag for 12 minutes and it takes hundreds of years to decompose. Only 1 to 3 percent of those are recycled.”
Their impact is profound, according to Kilgore, and not just in oceans.
“They clog storm drains and litter the landscape,” she said. “They get tangled in trees. If nothing else, they’re an eyesore in our beautiful town.”
Not to mention, said Long Island Soundkeeper Bill Lucey, “they end up in the Sound, where they’re a death sentence for birds, sea turtles, and fish that get ensnared in them, or mistake them for jellyfish, ingest them, and die from intestinal blockage.”
Once they’re out there, he added, “it wreaks havoc. It degrades into smaller and smaller pieces and becomes toxic. We find this stuff in the water. It’s in the fish we eat. It’s on our beaches.”
Which is likely why Westport and Greenwich, as well as 80 cities and towns in Massachusetts, the states of California and Hawaii, and 32 countries, have banned single-use plastic bags. Guilford, Stamford, Norwalk, Newtown, Waterford and Mansfield currently are working toward encouraging their towns to consider a ban.
“It’s just a habit,” said Diana Staley, owner of West Main Street’s Reverie Kitchen, which uses 100 percent recyclable materials for its take-out orders. “It takes the same effort to purchase less recycled materials than fully recycled materials.”
That’s not to say larger retailers aren’t making an effort to change the habits of their customers. Take the signs in the Big Y parking lot and emblazoned on its single-use plastic bags encouraging shoppers to “join Big Y in our effort to eliminate single use and paper bags” and “Go Green,” and the reusable bags available to purchase for $1 at every register.
As a possible result, more and more shoppers are bringing their own bags, said one cashier who asked not to be named.
To hear BYO Branford members tell it, that’s not enough. Studies show that education alone does not alter behavior on bag use. More than that, the numbers of plastic bag use is staggering. Last month, the Hartford Courant reported the state uses a billion plastic shopping bags last year.
“As members of a community, we accept regulations imposed on us every day,” said BYO Branford member Kate Galambos. “We’re not allowed to litter. We have to wear a seatbelt. When we hear that 100,000 single-use plastic bags are ending up in Long Island Sound each year, it means voluntary compliance hasn’t achieved the desired result.”
For those maintaining that single-use plastic bags are convenient, BYO Branford member Marge Schneider was sympathetic. For a long time, she said, “they seemed like the perfect product to keeping our food fresh.” And there are exceptions to the ban, she added, like butcher meat bags, for health and safety reasons, as well as dry cleaner bags and newspaper bags.
Still, “now we know that the plastics never go away and kill fish and marine life and are a terrible environmental hazard,” she said, citing a draft ordinance on single-use plastic bags by Stephen Latham, director of the Yale University Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics.
Yes, some, like Malerba, may contend that they reuse the plastic bags from the supermarket for an essential daily purpose. “The harmful polluting effects remain the same,” said Lucey.
On a bright note, Malerba, while initially skeptical about the use of biodegradable poop bags, learned that their cost would be negligible.
“That wasn’t hard,” she said. “It feels good. It feels like I’m doing my part for the planet for both my daughter and for future generations.”
For his part, Leighton Davis allowed that if Branford adopts an ordinance banning plastic bags, he’d comply.
“It’ll just be a matter of learning to live without them,” he said. “I can do that.”
For more information about BYO Branford, visit BYO Branford on Facebook or email email@example.com.