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OP-ED | Malloy Endears Himself To Plastic Bag Lovers Everywhere

by | Jan 16, 2015 6:30am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Environment, Opinion

Facing the prospect of a transportation crisis and a $1 billion deficit over each of the next two years, you’d think the General Assembly would focus like a laser beam on the budget, the economy, and finding a way to rebuild our crumbling transportation infrastructure.

I suppose it’s within the realm of possibility that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the General Assembly can walk and chew gum at the same time, but you’d have to wonder if they really have enough to do when you see lawmakers resurrect a relatively trivial concept that has failed to gain traction several times: a ban on plastic shopping bags.

The bill is currently making its way through the Environment Committee, where lawmakers are emboldened by what happen last year in California, which enacted the first statewide ban on the bags, following Hawaii’s lead earlier that year (Westport is the only Connecticut municipality that has its own ban in place).

I’m not opposed to providing disincentives to the use of the bags. They clog landfills or produce toxic fumes when burned in incinerators. And consumers can be careless with them, tossing them out the window and leaving them to the vagaries of the winds that inevitably deposit them on trees or in the ocean where they’re consumed by unsuspecting animals which then die.

A generation ago, much the same could be said about soda pop cans and beer bottles. They were once a plague upon the landscape, tossed freely on roadsides and adding considerably to the amount of garbage municipalities must process. Shards of broken glass put gashes in vehicle tires — and, I know from personal experience, in many an unsuspecting bare foot.

But we did not ban them. We merely provided a disincentive to toss them into the garbage or out the window. Most states, including Connecticut, passed laws requiring retailers to collect a five-cent deposit. Most people reacted by returning the containers to collect the deposit. If those who couldn’t be bothered returning the bottles and cans tossed them out the window, someone would invariably collect them for the modest bounty.

If we must restrict the bags, the bottles-and-cans model strikes me as a much more sensible way to approach the problem. The urge to ban behavior we object to is a strong one. It should be resisted in all but the most serious of cases.

I work in Great Barrington, Mass., which is one of only a handful of towns in the Bay State that banned “thin-film single-use plastic checkout bags” with handles, as the town bylaw passed in 2013 defines them.

Approved by voters at town meeting, Great Barrington’s “plastic bag reduction bylaw” was delayed twice by a matter of several months while town officials worked out the details. At first, shoppers in the town, about 75 percent of whom had been using plastic, were grumpy about the change when it finally took effect, but all seems to be quiet now. For the record, I personally find the ban annoying.

Sometimes I neglect to pack my reusables into the car and am forced to pay a dime for each flimsy rip-prone brown paper bag I need. If I could psychoanalyze myself, I’m sure I’d find that I forget the reusables intentionally. Over the months, they’ve become, based on what I smell and see, seething hotbeds of bacteria.

And no, I’m not imagining things. A 2010 study by the University of Arizona found that the reusables can be “a serious threat to public health, especially from coliform bacteria including E. coli, which were detected in half of the bags sampled” in the study. I know. I could put them through the wash, but those 25-cent cloth bags really don’t look like they would hold up very well in my Whirlpool upright.

And the description of plastic supermarket bags as “single-use” has always amused me. I can’t remember the last time I used one of those bags only once. Where else are you going put a kid’s wet bathing suit in at the beach? Before the ban, I used plastic bags to tote my lunch to the newsroom. I used one this morning to carry my street shoes to the office.

But I think it was Gov. Malloy himself who echoed the sentiments of plastic-bag lovers everywhere when he reacted to a question about the proposed ban: “I’m the owner of a couple dogs. I appreciate those plastic bags being around.”

If confronted by a plastic-bag ban passed by both houses of the General Assembly, would Malloy take out his veto pen? If he did, Porcupine Dan would become Plastic Dan. He’d be my hero — for a day at least.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is news editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

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(11) Archived Comments

posted by: MyOpinion | January 16, 2015  9:43am

Why are you writing about Plastic Bags and their reuse, when you could be chastising the House, Senate, and Malloy for their lack of a righteous budget plan?

posted by: jim black | January 16, 2015  10:16am

Don’t we use plastic bags because the leftist tree huggers of the seventies where whining. Like always no thought what so ever went into that, like where is this going to end up. Kind of like what are we going to do with the toxic batteries in so called “green” electric cars. Once again no thought and no clue.

posted by: RogueReporterCT | January 16, 2015  10:56am


California’s weather is much drier. Paper bags turn to mush at the front door much less frequently in that drought-ridden state. Let New Mexico and Arizona be next, with a special exceptions for monsoon season.

posted by: robn | January 16, 2015  2:06pm

I think its a pain in the butt to lift my foot and apply it to the brakes when I approach a red light in a car but I do it anyway because not doing it could be detrimental to my health (like a poisoned aquifer, which you as an individual can’t change, or like an e-coli contaminated shopping bag which you as an individual can change.)

posted by: NoNonsense | January 16, 2015  6:00pm

If plastic shopping bags were banned, I’d have to BUY plastic bags (which are much thicker) to use in my kitchen and bathroom wastebaskets. And I know many dog owners besides the Gov who use those bags for those messy pick-ups. How many of them, if they have to go out and buy poop bags, will decide to just leave their dogs’, uh, leavings, for the rest of us to step in?

posted by: LongJohn47 | January 16, 2015  6:07pm

Westport passed a ban in 2009.  It works well and has eliminated hundreds of thousands of bags.  It’s no big deal, and you can use your NYT bag to pick up after the dog.

You do read the NYT, don’t you?

posted by: Janster57 | January 16, 2015  8:49pm

Nero had his fiddle, Malloy has plastic bags. Marshmallows anyone?

posted by: OutOfOutrage | January 19, 2015  12:25pm


Interesting proposal. I’m with you Terry. So now that these bags have been banned do the people of Great Barrington put their dog’s mess in their pocket or just carry it around in their hand? Perhaps they buy the exact same type of bag from the same exact grocery store and then throw it away in the exact same manner as they did before the ban. I imagine the same holds true for their use in holding diapers, lunches, old rags, and the hundreds of other uses to which we put these bags. My son’s school actually crumples them up and dips them in paint for art projects.  The only real difference I see here is now people are paying for these bags (to accomplish all the same tasks as before) instead of getting them for free. The actual environmental impact is right around 0.

posted by: SocialButterfly | January 19, 2015  8:25pm

@LongJohn47: Perhaps it is time for you to move to Westport even though Democrats are in the minority there.

posted by: LongJohn47 | January 19, 2015  10:46pm

SBF - not sure where you get your “statistics”.  Republicans are in the minority in Westport.

posted by: SocialButterfly | January 20, 2015  11:12am

@LongJohn47: Since you claim the Republicans are the minority in Westport you have more reason to move there and join the dominant Democratic Town Committee there.  Bring your own plastic bags.

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