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Greenfield plastic bag, bottle ban proposal returns, but work still needed

GREENFIELD — The Greenfield resident who penned an ordinance late last year that would have banned thin plastic bags from being sold at checkout counters throughout town has returned with a stricter ordinance that would ban plastic bags, plastic bottles and other plastic products and this time he plans to target voters.

Garrett Connelly’s first attempt to ban plastic bags was nixed by Town Council in April, but he said at the time that he would return.

Connelly said he has been working with a group of about 10 Greenfield residents and recently filed his citizen-proposed petition with the town clerk.

“The town’s lawyer looked at it and made a few suggestions, so now we’re working on a rewrite that we plan to submit again soon,” he said.

Town Clerk Deborah Tuttle said there were more than a few suggestions. She said the town’s lawyer has more than a handful of concerns and said the proposed ordinance is not in a form that Town Council could pass or that could go to voters.

Connelly, who is a member of Greening Greenfield and of a local democracy group, calls the ordinance the Greenfield Biodegradable Packaging and Litter Reduction Ordinance.

“We’re trying to find a way to reduce plastic use and get rid of our litter,” he said. “We use most plastic for just minutes, but it lasts for thousands of years. We need to do something about that.”

Connelly said the proposed ordinance would ban plastic bags with a thickness of 3.0 mils or less — that’s 0.5 mi ls thicker than what would have been banned in his original proposal. A mil is a measurement equal to one-thousandth of an inch.

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 mils thick, while dry cleaning bags are 0.74 mils thick. Rubbish bags would not be included in the ban. Connelly said, for instance, some retailers like Wilson’s Department Store, which has expressed opposition to such an ordinance, saying it would cost too much and might lead to increased shoplifting, could ask for an exemption if the ordinance were to put a strain on the business.

“I could see the town giving someone an exemption, or maybe even a six-month or yearlong exemption, to give them time to work things out,” he said.

“This is not about banning plastic; it’s about encouraging people to use reusable bags and packaging,” said Connelly.

More items included this time

The council began reviewing Connelly’s first proposal last year, but slowed things down when earlier this year it heard the concerns of a number of local merchants about the hardship it would cause them and their customers when they had to pass along cost increases.

Connelly didn’t stop at plastic bags this time, though.

His ordinance would also ban plastic bottles (one liter or less) and would require that merchandise be sold “without additional packaging,” like being wrapped in plastic or bubble wrap, for instance.

Restaurants would not be able to provide take-out food containers or utensils unless they were composed of biodegradable and readily compostable materials.

As for the litter portion of the proposed ordinance, smokers would have to carry personal ashtrays or be within an arm’s length of an ashtray to smoke in public spaces they are currently allowed to smoke in.

“There’s just too much trash lying around,” said Connelly. “We all have to take some responsibility.”

Connelly also suggests in the ordinance that the town and its merchants encourage people to bring their own resuable or biodegradable shopping bags to stores when they shop.

He said he and the people working with him want the ordinance to register a “zero-waste goal” with the town.

Louise G. Amyot of Madison Circle, Suzanne Gluck-Gosis of Peabody Lane, David Campolo of Congress Street and Emily Greene of Davis Street also signed the petition.

Connelly said he would like to get a referendum on the state ballot in November, but Tuttle said that can’t happen.

“He would have to get special legislation to get a town question on a state ballot,” said Tuttle. “That won’t happen.”

Tuttle said the ordinance needs work before it even gets to Town Council. Then, Connelly and his group will have to collect hundreds of signatures to get it on a town ballot.

The earliest that could happen is November 2015, which will give the council, merchants and others plenty of time to talk about the proposed ordinance.

For more information, visit: www.greenfieldzerowaste.org.

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