Guest columnist Richard Cooper: Despite challenges ahead, business owner supports plastics rules

  • Rich Cooper, owner of Coopers Corner and State Street Fruit Store, stocks shelves at State Street last March. Gazette file photo

Published: 1/13/2021 1:44:36 PM

I am writing in support of the Plastic Reduction and Sustainability Ordinance now pending before Northampton City Council. Among other things, the ordinance will prohibit restaurants and food retailers from using and/or selling most types of plastic containers.

When the ordinance was first introduced in September, I saw that many of the plastics I use to package products we sell at State Street and Cooper’s were on the list of prohibited plastics. For most of the prohibited items, there is no alternative available to us. Or, if there is an alternative, it is unaffordable and/or it doesn’t fully meet our needs.

Additionally, during the pandemic, the packaging supply chain has been unreliable to say the least. Even though I fully supported the notion of reducing the use of plastics, it is currently impossible for me to comply with this ordinance.

I joined my voice with other businesses impacted negatively by the proposal. Amy Cahillane, executive director of the Downtown Northampton Association, gathered information and organized meetings to make sure affected businesses had a seat at the table.

We asked questions and raised concerns. We were concerned about the sweeping changes required by the ordinance, the unavailability of suitable alternatives, and the fact that we were being asked to make major changes in our businesses while still swimming upstream in the uncertain economic climate of the pandemic.

What happened next is a lesson in civics I sure wish we could duplicate in Washington, D.C. Not only did the sponsors of this ordinance listen, but they also engaged in a meaningful dialogue, seeking to understand how this ordinance would impact my business. Councilors Jim Nash (Ward 3) and Rachel Maiore (Ward 7) spent significant time with me at my stores as I pointed out our packaging needs and demonstrated the breadth of the impact.

The dialogue produced some changes to the ordinance, delaying the effective date and allowing for the possibility of a longer exemption for businesses unable to comply initially.

Equally important, however, was the tone of those conversations and that of the City Council debate when the ordinance passed on first reading. It was crystal clear that the council is committed to making sure businesses are actually able to comply. Even now, councilors Maiore and Nash are helping me research and investigate alternatives to the banned plastic products.

I want to be clear. It still feels like we are putting the cart before the horse. Right now, I cannot fully comply with this ordinance. There are no alternatives for many of the plastic packaging products I need. I am taking a leap of faith supporting this ordinance.

I’m counting on American ingenuity to imagine and develop the next generation of packaging that will meet customer and business needs and not pollute the environment. And, with the support of our city government and this community, I’m willing to take that risk. After all, my dad started his dairy business when the country was still in the throes of the Great Depression.

We entered unchartered territory when we embraced the new demands of the first Bottle Bill. We had no idea what would happen when we decided to stop selling cigarettes. And our decision to go ahead with a major expansion of our State Street store as the Great Recession unfolded left many scratching their heads.

We emerged from each challenge thriving, with even stronger connections to the community. The right path is often not the easy one. The Plastic Reduction and Sustainability Ordinance puts us on the right path. I’m willing to work hard and do my part. Please join me.

Rich Cooper owns State Street Fruit Store and Cooper’s Corner, both in Northampton.


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