Divided council bans plastic bags

  • Eric McDonough of Foster's at the plastic bag recycling collection. January 16, 2019 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ

  • Plastic of paper bags at Foster's Supermarket in Greenfield. January 16, 2019 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ

  • Customers check out at Foster’s Supermarket in Greenfield on Wednesday. Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/16/2019 11:31:43 PM

GREENFIELD — After about six years of discussion around a city-wide plastic bag ban, the ban will now go into law.

The Greenfield City Council voted for the ban — which won’t take into effect until 2020 and not in full effect until 2021 — on an 8-4 vote Wednesday night.

It reverses a council rejection late last year, but the new ordinance by Councilor Tim Dolan provided some compromises, including a 5 cent minimum fee on paper bags and a year lag in rolling out the ban.

“It was an attempt to strike a balance that councilors expressed,” Dolan said during Wednesday night’s debate at the John Zon Community Center. “Throughout this process, we’ve tried to strike a balance between the needs of shoppers and the business community.”

An idea by At-Large Councilor Isaac Mass to put the ban to a town-wide vote in the November annual election was eventually shot down by the council.

“If it’s such an easy choice, why are you so afraid to put it to the voters?” Mass asked before the concept was defeated.

“I’m tired of having a compromise dangled before us,” At-Large Councilor Ashli Stempel said. “You’re just trying to get your way.”

Mass’s proposal ended up briefly tangled with the question of a new library, as Councilor Otis Wheeler asked whether fellow councilors would honor the outcome of a potential non-binding referendum regarding the library, if the plastic bag issue were allowed to go to a referendum, also.

Vice President Penny Ricketts did not want the plastic bag ban to go to the ballot because of money that might be spent on a campaign. Others just seemed eager for the council to put the issue to rest.

The originator of a plastic bag ordinance back in 2013, Garrett Connelly said he needed to see the proposed ordinance include a paragraph about the public health concerns raised by plastic bags. Without that language, the longtime proponent didn’t want the council to vote on the ban.

“I think we should put it out to the people so we can learn and talk about it,” Connelly said.

A couple of other residents also encouraged the idea of putting the ban to a referendum, as was done in 2015.

Members of a group calling itself Greenfield Rights of Nature said they have donated 150 reusable bags so far and plan on continuing to do so to help people limit their use of disposable bags.

The ordinance

The ban will not go into full effect for two years. For the first year, from 2020 to 2021, retailers can offer a recyclable paper bag for free or any charge.

By 2021, the ban will be fully operational and retailers will need to charge a minimum 5 cents per paper bag and be unable to use plastic.

Only retailers will be subject to his ban, but there’s a specific definition of what counts as retail: “Any commercial enterprise, defined as the following, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, including, but not limited to pharmacies, convenience stores, grocery stores, seasonal and temporary businesses, jewelry stores, and household good stores.”

But this does not include: “Restaurants drawing more than 80 percent of revenue from the sale of prepared food, liquor stores, bazaars operated by nonprofit organizations or religious institutions. Food pastries, soup kitchens, and other governmental and non-for-profit agencies that distribute food or other products to the needy free of charge are not included in this category, and are exempt from the terms of this ordinance.”

Specific instances that will not be subject to the plastic bag ban are: paper bag given to customers at the pharmacy for medication; a bag without handles that’s used to protect items from damaging or contaminating others, like for vegetables; a bag used to contain unwrapped food; bag to cover clothing.

The ban will be enforced by the Greenfield Health Department.

Businesses could apply for a waiver of the ban because of an “undue hardship,” which is for a variety of specific cases.

History

The plastic bag ban went up for a town-wide vote in 2015, during a mayoral election. The non-binding referendum led to the eventual ban of plastic foam containers in town, but a related plastic bag ban lost 2,021-2,242.

Precincts 4, 5, 6 and 8 all voted for the ban. Precinct 6 was the most in favor of it, with 60 percent of voters saying “yes,” while only 39 percent of voters in Precincts 1 and 9 were in favor of it.

With Greenfield Rights of Nature, a citizen-written ordinance by Sandra Boston, came before the council in the summer of 2015. After running into legal issues over the validity of the petition, the ordinance fell short. By election time in 2015, it went to the ballot box along with foam containers and water bottles. About 59 percent of voters agreed to ban foam containers.

In 2015, Greenfield could have become one of the first communities in the state to vote for the ban. Since then many towns and cities have come to support a ban, including Boston, which just started with the ban.


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