- Associated Press - Sunday, May 10, 2015

GREENFIELD, Mass. (AP) - Several cities and towns throughout the state have banned either plastic bags or bottles. Some are considering banning more plastic items in the future. But it appears Greenfield may be the first to try to ban plastic bags, single-serve plastic water bottles and plastic foam containers at one fell swoop, not to mention curtailing paper bag use as well.

Sandra Boston, one of the authors of a local referendum against plastic and paper, said she and four others have decided to push ahead to collect 1,093 voter signatures needed to move their proposition toward the town’s fall election.

The Town Council rejected the group’s first proposal in late 2013 and was expected to reject a second one that was withdrawn. This is the third try in about 18 months.

While Boston says she and her fellow petitioners hope voters see things their way, one town in the eastern part of the state says they may be pushing too much all at once.

Here are the experiences of some of the state’s other communities who have enacted plastic bans.

Brookline bans bags and Styrofoam

“If you try to kill two birds with one stone, you usually end up missing both,” said Alan Balsam, director of public health and human services in Brookline, a suburb of Boston.

He said a plastic bag and Styrofoam ban has been in effect in that town for more than 18 months.

“We didn’t ban plastic bags in stores smaller than 2,500 square feet, because we didn’t want to hurt the mom and pop stores,” he said. “Any store 2,500 square feet and larger, especially chains and pharmacies, have to comply. There are more than 75 stores affected by that ban, and more than 300 food service locations affected by the Styrofoam ban.”

Balsam said the bylaw was passed “overwhelmingly” at town meeting. It went into effect in late 2013.

“We gave people a year to get used to the bag ban before it actually went into effect,” he said. “We did a lot of education in that year.”

He said businesses received waivers in the beginning, because they needed to deplete their inventories of bags and Styrofoam.

“You do need a little flexibility when implementing such a bylaw,” said Balsam.

Brookline’s Board of Health enforces the bylaw.

Balsam said the town didn’t want to ban everything at once, because it wanted to ease people into it.

For instance, he said the town is just now talking about having businesses charge a small fee for people who want paper bags, as opposed to bringing their own reusable bags when they shop.

“The manufacturing of paper bags uses a lot of fossil fuels, so even if renewable trees are used in the process, it still isn’t great for the environment,” said Balsam. “We need to move toward reusable bags.”

He said next month the town will also begin looking at banning single-serve plastic water bottles.

“Such a ban would require the municipality and all food service establishments to offer municipal water to people,” he said. “Vendors would be restricted from offering water in machines. Those details need to be worked out and talked about.”

Balsam said he’s already hearing some push-back on the proposal to ban bottles.

“It’s a little more controversial than the plastic bag ban was,” he said. “I get it, but I think it’s eventually necessary.”

He said from a public health point of view, it’s a conundrum - does the town take the most healthy alternative out of vending machines and leave unhealthy drinks like soda?

“We don’t like the idea of leaving only sugary drinks in vending machines, but we also have to think about the effects of plastic on the environment,” said Balsam.

He said enforcement hasn’t been difficult - five businesses are still serving drinks with plastic foam lids, but the town plans to meet with them soon and suggest other alternatives.

Ban working in Manchester by the Sea

“We’re an ocean community, so we see what plastic does every day - we’re very aware of the issues,” said Manchester by the Sea Town Administrator Greg Federspiel.

He said a plastic bag ban was voted at town meeting in April 2013 and was supposed to go into effect on July 1 that year, but selectmen delayed until Jan. 1, 2014 to give merchants time to use up their inventory.

Federspiel said “People have accepted the bylaw and are working with it,” he said. “I haven’t heard any comments, good or bad.”

Concord: Third time’s a charm

Chris Whelan, town manager in Concord, said it took the town three tries to pass a single-serve plastic water bottle ban. Concord is one of the first towns in the country to ban the sale of small plastic water bottles.

“It’s going well, but it did take some time,” he said.

Whelan said the issue was brought forward by a citizens’ petition the first time and passed by just 17 votes, but the attorney general, who had to sign off, didn’t because there were several legal issues with it.

The second time, the proposed bylaw was defeated by 13 votes at town meeting.

It was the third time in spring 2011 that it passed, said Whelan, and it went into effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

“The town gave merchants a little time to prepare,” he said.

Like Brookline, the town’s Board of Health enforces the bylaw. It appears that’s the case in many of the Massachusetts towns that have banned plastic bags or bottles.

Whelan said shortly after the bylaw went into effect, the board found 14 violations - Cumberland Farms kept selling single-serve plastic water bottles, because the company believed the bylaw would be rescinded by the following year.

“The company was fined and has been in full compliance since,” he said.

Whelan said no one is prohibited from giving water away in single-serve bottles, just the sale of bottles is prohibited.

“A couple of merchants aren’t very happy - they feel like they’ve lost some profit - but everyone is working with it,” said Whelan.

He said the town is placing bubblers and water fountains throughout town to compensate.

“We install one or two a year,” he said. “We put them in public buildings, parks and other places.”

The town recently voted to ban plastic bags, and that will take effect Jan. 1, 2016.

Other towns and cities

Several other towns and cities in Massachusetts have passed either plastic bag or plastic bottle bans, but it appears none have passed both at the same time, like Greenfield citizens will attempt this fall.

Great Barrington in the Berkshires passed a plastic bag ban on March 1, 2014, but it doesn’t appear the town has any immediate plans to ban plastic bottles.

Provincetown, the outermost town on Cape Cod, tried twice before it banned plastic bags, and the small Massachusetts island of Nantucket has had a plastic-bag ban since 1990. Falmouth, another Cape Cod town, passed a plastic bag ban late last year and will phase it in over the next 18 months.

Northampton’s City Council recently took its first of two votes to pass an ordinance that would require stores 2,000 square feet and larger to replace single-use, polyethylene plastic bags with reusable or biodegradable ones.

The city will take a second vote in May. If it votes “yes” again, the ordinance would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

There have also been a couple of statewide efforts to ban plastic bags in all Massachusetts towns, but nothing has come of those, yet.


Information from: The (Greenfield, Mass.) Recorder, https://www.recorder.com

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