Plastic bag ban heads to council

Staff writer
Published: 10/11/2018 12:05:40 AM

GREENFIELD — A plastic bag ban is headed for the City Council.

Following a hearing Wednesday night, a City Council committee unanimously recommended the ban to the full council.

Councilors Penny Ricketts, Otis Wheeler, Timothy Dolan and Sheila Gilmour supported the proposed ordinance. This is the second time in recent years that environmental advocates have pushed for such a ban.

The proposed ordinance would bar retail locations from using disposable plastic bags where customers check out. They would be required to provide either recyclable paper bags, reusable bags or approved compostable plastic bags.

Councilors voted after a brief discussion regarding the cost of paper bags proposed by the ordinance, which is 25 cents.

Dolan explained businesses should be able to charge 25 cents because “businesses would be compensated for the entire cost of a bag.”

Most of the people at the hearing supported the ban. There was one Greenfield resident who said he did not believe the ordinance would have any impact.

Charlie Breunig said while he keeps his own cloth bag handy in case he needs to go shopping, he believes the ordinance will be more symbolic than have a real impact on pollution.

“I’d rather see people using more public transit rather than using fewer plastic bags.”

He said this is an instance where the “government should be less heavy handed.”

Resident Sandra Boston said she believes “it is the role of the government to lead” in matters such as the plastic bag ban.

“We’ve all been swamped with the facts. We don’t need any more facts about the impact of plastic. All we have to look at is the Green River clean-up every year and see that the people in this town who use plastic bags do not take care of making sure they get recycled,” Boston said. “To me, this is whether we are voting with our feet for the world to be better taken care of and for us to be responsible citizens.”

Resident Peg Hall, said she wanted to reduce waste.

“The solid waste management hierarchy says waste reduction, then recycling and composting, then ... landfill,” Hall said. “This is a waste reduction effort. We don’t have many of those. There aren’t many opportunities for waste reduction.”

City Councilors Douglas Mayo and Verne Sund, who aren’t on the Appointments and Ordinance Committee, spoke from the floor in favor of the ordinance as well.

Sund said the only issue he had with the ordinance was regarding the charge for paper bags.

“The thing about paper bags is that they are recyclable, all paper bags are,” Sund said. “I think everything but paper bags is free on this, that’s the thing people are asking me about.”

The proposal specifies that reusable bags must be designed to be reused at least 125 times. Another update to the ordinance that failed in the past include the Director of the city Health Department, or a designee, be responsible for enforcing the ordinance, approving the compostable plastic bags and approving exemption requests.

The ordinance would take effect one year after its approval.

Plastic bags used by laundries and dry-cleaners, newspaper bags or bags used to contain or wrap frozen food, meat or fish or bags used by pharmacies, for a customer purchasing medication, would not be affected.

A retail establishment could be exempt from the ordinance for two years, if the requirements are causing “undue hardship.”

Businesses could be fined up to $300 a day if they aren’t compliant. Fines would come after a warning and a 14-day period for correction.

In 2015, a citizen-written ordinance was proposed to ban plastic bags, plastic bottles and plastic foam containers in the city.

Members of the citizens’ group Greenfield Rights of Nature, an environmental advocacy group, pushed for the ordinance’s approval for months. A non-binding ballot question in November of 2015 revealed voters were not ready for plastic bags or bottles to be banned.

Single-use, plastic foam containers were banned by the City Council in 2016, but not plastic bags or single-use bottles. The 13-member council membership has changed since then and may now have the votes it needs.

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