Business owners concerned about plastic bag ban
GREENFIELD — A Congress Street resident has caused quite the stir with an ordinance he has proposed to ban plastic bags from being used at checkout counters in stores throughout Greenfield.
Some downtown merchants believe the effects of such a ban could be devastating to business, but town councilors are saying that nothing is written in stone, and before anything is, the council wants to hear from as many businesses and residents as possible.
Self-proclaimed environmentalist Garrett Connelly’s proposed ordinance would ban any plastic bag with a thickness of 2.5 mils or less. A mil is a unit of measurement equal to .001 inch, or one one-thousandth of an inch. Bags that would be exempt in Connelly’s ordinance include those used for dry cleaning, newspapers, produce, meat, bulk foods and wet items.
According to Multi-Pak USA Inc., a supplier of plastic bags, grocery bags used in local grocery stores like Foster’s, Big Y and Stop and Shop are 0.5-mil thick, dry cleaning bags are 0.75 mil, a bread bag is 1.5 mils, retail boutique bags are 2 mils and pallet covers are 3 mils.
“This ordinance is scary,” said Tamara Beauregard, vice president of Wilson’s Department Store on Main Street.
Beauregard said that Wilson’s bags are less than 2.5 mils thick, so would be included in the ban.
“Paper bags are more expensive and not as durable,” said Beauregard. “We’re very concerned. I think more needs to be done with educating people on recycling plastic bags, not banning them.”
She said that while Wilson’s is “very energy and environmentally conscious,” it doesn’t believe banning plastic bags will be good for business, and that could hurt Greenfield in other ways.
Beauregard said the company is also worried about increased shoplifting, because it will be difficult to check everyone’s personal bags as they leave the store.
“Another huge worry is cost,” said Beauregard. “Our supplier tells us that our cost for bags will quadruple if our current bags are banned. It will also cost us more for shipping and storage, because paper bags are heavier and take up more space.”
Matthew Deane, co-owner of Foster’s Super Market on Conway and Allen streets, said the ban “would not be ideal” for the longtime family-owned supermarket.
“Paper bags are four times more expensive than plastic,” said Deane. “We have to make up the cost somewhere.”
He said plastic bags cost Foster’s 3 cents and paper bags cost 13 cents.
Deane said Foster’s would hate to have to pass that cost on to its customers, but would probably be forced to.
“People already have enough incentives to go to New Hampshire and other places to shop,” he said.
Deane said the ban, in theory, is OK, but there are other ways that won’t affect people and businesses as negatively as he believes the proposed ordinance would.
“We should be teaching and encouraging people to recycle,” he said. “There are recycling containers for plastic bags at some stores. That is another option.”
“It wouldn’t be earth-shattering, but it would definitely be an added expense that we’d have to pass along,” said Deane.
Arthur Baker, the town’s public works director, said plastic bags have not been a huge problem for the town in terms of improperly discarded ones getting caught in storm drains and such.
“We have to reject some at curbside when people try to slip them through in their recycling,” he said. “One gets into the storm system from time to time, but they flow through. We don’t have problems with them interfering with the system.”
Baker said he does see plastic bags floating in streams and brooks and that is not good for the environment. He said they make their way out of the storm drains into the brooks and streams.
“I think this is something that should be taken up at the state level,” said Baker. “There is going to be an impact on local businesses.”
State legislators have been considering several bills that would ban single-use plastic bags statewide. One bill, for instance, would ban bags from being distributed by stores greater than 4,000 square feet, while other bills would ban them completely.
Baker said the plastic bags Connelly wants to ban are recyclable and could be dropped off to stores after use or reused as liners in small trash cans or to pick up dog waste or dispose of cat litter.
Mary Walsh-Martel, owner of Magical Child on Main Street, said her business uses plastic bags only on rainy days or for clothing sales and would not have a problem getting rid of them completely.
“I already try to use paper bags as much as possible,” said Walsh-Martel. “I think the ordinance is a good thing. It will be a hardship on some, but it will be good for the environment — there’s just too much plastic out there.”
Walsh-Martel said she does not believe passing such an ordinance would send people to shop elsewhere.
Some Greenfield merchants said, though, that they hope the council doesn’t rush to pass the ordinance as written.
The ordinance, as written by Connelly, would ban plastic bags with 2.5 mils or less thickness from being distributed, used or sold for checkout or other purposes at any retail establishment within the town.
Shoppers would be encouraged to bring their own reusable bags to shop and would be charged 10 cents for every paper bag they used. Those fees would go to the town for operating or (plastic) educational purposes.
Some merchants have complained that there would be no way for them to keep track of how many paper bags were being used and how much was being collected for the town.
Four other towns in Massachusetts have passed similar bylaws and ordinances: Great Barrington and Manchester passed theirs this year and Brookline passed its last year. Nantucket was the first town to pass such a bylaw in the 1990s.