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Norwich becomes most recent community in Vt. to ban plastic bags

  • Cashier Austin Evans talks with customer Laura Fraser, of Fairlee, left, and his coworker Josh Picknell, right, at Dan and Whit's in Norwich, Vt., Wednesday March 27, 2019. The store discontinued its use of plastic grocery bags in mid-March after students from Marion Cross School campaigned against them. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 10, 2019

NORWICH — The Selectboard unanimously passed an ordinance on Wednesday banning plastic bags at town businesses.

Merchants still could offer paper bags and also will have the option to charge at least 10 cents per bag, money that can be kept by the business. Retailers could charge more per bag if they wanted.

“The idea behind the rule is to encourage the re-use of bringing in your own bag,” said Selectboard member John Langhus. “We’re going to give you a 10-cent reminder to bring your own bag.”

The 10-cent charge was the central point of the 25-minute discussion by the five-member Selectboard prior to the vote.

“Are people who receive food stamps exempted from this ordinance?” asked Selectboard member Roger Arnold.

According to the ordinance, they are not.

Langhus pointed out that Norwich Congregational Church has been collecting reusable bags to drop off at Dan & Whit’s and a few other local retailers, so that people who forget or might not be able to afford the bags can use them.

There was no public comment against the ordinance from the 12-person audience.

In February, fifth-graders at Marion Cross School proposed a town-wide ban on single-use plastic shopping bags. The students presented a 44-page report to the Selectboard that cited a study by Columbia University’s Earth Institute that estimates nearly 18 billion pounds of new plastic trash end up in the ocean annually.

Norwich’s transfer station does not recycle plastic shopping bags nor other plastic products.

In their presentation to the board, the students brought up Thetford’s plastic bag recycling program.

The town collects 60 to 100 pounds of plastic-film products a week that are then dropped off at a West Lebanon supermarket. A company in Virginia then uses the recycled products to make outdoor furniture.

Norwich joins Brattleboro and Wilmington in having plastic bag bans. Several communities also took votes on Town Meeting Day to “advise and encourage” against their use.

“It’s a political shift; it’s the tip of the iceberg,” said Selectboard member Mary Layton. “We’re getting a little ahead of it by doing this, and maybe raising our awareness.”

Last month, the Vermont House and Senate introduced bills that would ban or restrict retail and service businesses from providing single-use plastic bags, straws and polystyrene food containers to customers.

A handful of area businesses already have decided to move away from plastic bags, including Dan & Whit’s and the Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society.

The Co-op will phase out plastic grocery bags over the next 12 months with the goal of completing eliminating them by the spring of 2020.

The Norwich ban would exclude plastic dry cleaning bags, newspaper bags, and those used for produce, meat, bulk foods.

The ordinance will be implemented starting Sept. 1.

Daniela Vidal Allee can be reached at dallee@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.