Greenfield man proposes ordinances banning plastic bags at checkout counters, and single-serve plastic water bottles

Last modified: Wednesday, November 06, 2013

GREENFIELD — A Congress Street resident has proposed two town ordinances, one that would ban plastic bags from being used at checkout counters and the other that would prohibit the sale of single-serve (one liter or less) plastic water bottles in Greenfield.

“I’ve always been interested in science, the environment and the economy,” said Garrett Connelly, 70, a member of Greening Greenfield who describes himself as a “very concerned environmentalist,”

“I started reading about what plastic does to the environment, the animals and sea life that comes in contact with it, and to cities and towns and us, and I decided I needed to do something,” he added.

Connelly described his efforts as a “baby step” and hopes they lead to bigger steps down the road, including the ban of larger plastic trash bags and other types of plastic bottles. He said that under his proposal, plastic bags could still be used within stores to bag items such as fruit, vegetables and meat, but would not be allowed at the checkout.

Connelly said he has used different models from communities around the country to create the two ordinances. He said he hopes Town Council will pass the ordinances.

“We’re going to get this through one way or the other,” said Connelly. “If the council doesn’t pass it, we’ll do a citizens’ petition and let the voters decide.”

Banning plastic bags

“The whole idea behind this is to encourage people to use reusable bags,” said Connelly. “All stores would be banned from using plastic bags, so they’d have to offer customers paper bags and reusable bags. Customers would have a choice of buying and using reusable bags or paying a 10-cent fee for each paper bag they used.”

Many grocery stores already sell reusable bags for between 99 cents and $2.

Connelly said the 10-cent fee would go to the town to support its Department of Public Works and the cost that the store incurred for using paper bags could be passed on to the customer through sales. He said the mayor would be able to raise or lower the 10-cent fee, according to the ordinance.

“That money could be used by public works to implement other ‘green’ projects in town,” said Connelly.

He said he hopes that social service agencies would help low-income people who could not afford to buy reusable bags or pay the 10-cent-per-paper bag fee.

“I know stores would need four to six months to make this change, so the ordinance could allow for that, too,” said Connelly.

“There are so many reasons this should be done,” he said. “Plastic breaks down under solar radiation and the entire earth is becoming polluted with its emissions. It’s not healthy for us or any creature.”

Connelly said as plastic bags break down, the material makes its way to rivers and eventually into oceans.

“It’s killing sea life,” said Connelly. “Nothing good is coming of it. It’s making a mess.”

He said stores could run reusable bag campaigns and offer customers incentives to use them, including a few cents back when they do.

Connelly said he has gathered many signatures — about 400, but just under 100 are Greenfield voters — and said people are behind his proposed ordinance.

“I’m ready to do what I have to if the town doesn’t take action,” he said. “I didn’t want to take it straight to the voters and cost the town $12,000 for a special election, but I will take it to voters if I have to.”

Single-serve water bottles

“Bottles are even worse than bags,” said Connelly. “Not only because of their breakdown, but because people who use them leave them everywhere, so they become more trash that towns and cities have to deal with.”

Connelly said the ordinance to ban bottles would also encourage people to drink tap water, which he believes everyone should be doing.

He said he brought both ordinances to the Town Council Appointments and Ordinances Committee and asked that it send a recommendation to the full council.

“The members seemed a little nervous about the bottle ordinance,” said Connelly. “They all seemed to know that we need to get rid of plastic bags. I think they’ll be talking about this for awhile.”

Connelly said he envisions the town installing water fountains throughout Greenfield and its businesses installing “complimentary filling stations,” so that people could carry their own reusable bottles and fill them while downtown.

“The town could create a map of the drinking stations for its residents, as well as for its visitors,” said Connelly.

“When I was a kid, we brought tap water from home when we went outside to play,” he added. “We need to re-establish those habits. It’s a matter of personal responsibility to our town and our planet.”

He said there is talk at the state and federal levels about the types of laws he is proposing, but they really need to happen at the “grassroots” community level.

“That’s where it’s going to take hold and begin to work,” said Connelly.

Appointments and Ordinances Committee Chairman Keith Zaltzberg said both proposals are well-intentioned and his committee will discuss the reusable bag ordinance and encourage a broader public discussion about the bottle ban.

“The entire community should have a say in what to do about bottles,” said Zaltzberg. “Our concern is that if Greenfield just bans water bottles, it will create a shift to more unhealthy choices.”

Zaltzberg said he is not sure an ordinance to ban just single-serve water bottles is the correct mechanism for change.

“A citizens’ petition is looking at expanding the (state) Bottle Bill to include water and juice, along with soda and beer, so I think we need to wait and see what’s going to happen there,” said Zaltzberg.

“The reusable bag ban has its challenges, because it will be disruptive to the way some live their lives, but there are alternatives, so it could work,” said Zaltzberg. “I feel pretty positive about the (plastic bag) ordinance.”

Earlier this year, state Rep. Denise Provost, D-Somerville, filed legislation for a statewide ban on plastic bag use in retail and grocery stores. “They (can) get caught in street drains, which exacerbates flooding during heavy rain events, and when you do river cleanups, the sludge is twisted with plastic bags. The amount of plastic bags is just staggering,” she said.

Great Barrington, Manchester-by-the-Sea and Brookline already prohibit their use, and Concord banned plastic bottles as of Jan. 1, 2013.


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