Washington, DC – Congressman Jim Himes today congratulated the four members of Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) who championed the town’s now-existing ban on disposable retail plastic bags. Jonathan Cunitz, Liz Milwe, Gene Seidman, Jeffrey Wieser have received the 2009 Environmental Merit Award from the Environmental Protection Agency for their work last year to make Westport one of the first communities east of California to pass a ban on retail checkout bags.

“I congratulate Jonathan, Liz, Gene, and Jeffrey on this award and thank them for their work to make Westport a national leader on sustainability,” said Congressman Himes. “It’s great to represent people with smart, innovative ideas who are so committed to moving our local towns and businesses forward.”

The RTM members are being recognized not only for the action they took but for the scope of the ordinance the town enacted. Westport’s ban is the most extensive in the country, applying to all stores and even farmers’ markets and sidewalk sales.

In early 2008, the four members of the Westport RTM met to discuss the concern of the increasing appearance of plastic bags on the town’s roads, streams, river and beaches. Jonathan Cunitz, Liz Milwe, Gene Seidman, and Jeffrey Wieser spent the next several months researching the issue of plastic bags in the environment and the available alternatives to remedy this growing problem. After many meetings with town leaders, merchants, students, residents and other members of the Westport RTM, they concluded that the appropriate response was to enact an ordinance that encourages the use of reusable shopping bags and bans the use of plastic retail checkout bags. In the months to follow, the ordinance was discussed at various meetings and finally submitted to the proper committees for approval. It received overwhelming support, and was approved by a vote of 26 to 5.

Given out by EPA since 1970, the merit awards honor individuals and groups who have shown particular ingenuity and commitment in their efforts to preserve the region's environment. The EPA also recognized three individuals and two government programs from Connecticut with merit awards today at the ceremony held in Boston.

More Information: Environmental Merit Awards (www.epa.gov/ne/ra/ema)