The wasteful habit of the abundant use of plastic shopping bags may soon be coming to an end, at least in the coastal Town of Darien. It is the latest municipality in Connecticut to consider an ordinance that would prohibit shop owners from dispensing the one-time-use plastic shopping bags at checkout counters. The ordinance would make Darien the newest member of a global movement of communities, states, and nations that are taking action to replace harmful plastic bags with an environmentally friendly solution, reusable bags.

Plastic bags are detrimental to our natural environment, and completely unnecessary. They pollute our environment and threaten wildlife; and the problem grows exponentially with each passing day.  Currently, less than 3% of plastic bags are recycled properly. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide every year, and over 100 billion of them come from right here in the USA.  Approximately 200,000 plastic bags end up in landfills every hour, where they can take as long as 1,000 years to break down.  Hundreds of thousands more become litter, polluting our open spaces and our waterways, where they eventually lead to the ocean.

Over the last 50 years, the mass consumption of plastic products has created a virtual wasteland of plastic in our oceans, where currents collect garbage and deposit it in Gyres; massive swirling vortexes (some as large as the state of Texas) full of plastic trash. Worst of all, plastic particles are often mistaken for food by fish and wildlife, leading to strangulation, disruption of the digestive system and eventually death. Studies have indicated that over 250 species of marine life are adversely affected by plastic pollution. Tens of thousands of whales, birds, seals, and turtles are killed every year by consuming plastic bags. To make matters worse, once a creature that has eaten plastic dies and decomposes, the plastic is then re-released into the environment to claim another victim.

Now Darien has an opportunity to make the town a leader in environmental protection, by ending the distribution of the ubiquitous plastic bag at checkout counters. It would be only the second town in Connecticut to adopt a policy like this, following the example of Westport, which, in 2008, was the first town east of the Mississippi to implement a ban. Not only has the policy become a point of pride for Westport residents, but it has led to a significant increase in reusable bag use. Westport shop owners have noted a 70 percent uptick in the use of reusable bags since the ban, making the initiative a huge success. Furthermore, the town’s geographic location allows Westport to lead by example as a committed member of the Long Island Sound community.

In the last year, East Hampton and Southampton, New York have adopted their own plastic bag bans. Other municipalities are considering similar action, including the Cities of Rye and White Plains, NY, and the town of Wilton, CT. But for now, the focus is on Darien, where local leaders are listening to concerned citizens and considering joining the BYOB or Bring Your Own Bag movement! Now we are counting on Darien to do the right thing!

Louis Burch is the Connecticut Program Coordinator for Citizens Campaign for the Environment. He is a resident of New Haven, CT, and has been with the organization since January of 2008.