Northampton delays rules curbing plastic use by businesses

  • NORTHAMPTON CITY HALL FILE PHOTO

  • Northampton’s pending plastics bylaw will ban disposable takeout containers including Styrofoam and polyethylene. AP PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/18/2022 7:00:44 AM
Modified: 6/18/2022 6:58:14 AM

NORTHAMPTON — The City Council has voted again to delay implementation of the packaging and plastic reduction ordinance that was set to go into effect on Jan. 1, citing continued economic pressures on local businesses and restaurants that would be expected to comply with new rules for takeout containers, plastic bags and more.

Councilors had previously voted to postpone the ordinance until July 1, and at Thursday’s virtual meeting, they pushed the date back to Oct. 31.

The ordinance bans restaurants from using non-recyclable, disposable takeout containers including Styrofoam and polyethylene. It also requires restaurants to use disposable utensils and cups that are biodegradable, compostable, reusable or recyclable; places new restrictions on the use of plastic checkout bags in retail businesses; and forbids the sale of Styrofoam packing peanuts.

Ward 7 Councilor Rachel Maiore proposed the delay. She said the council passed the ordinance “in a pre-pandemic world” and that many local business owners are still concerned about their ability to comply.

“I know we’re all very anxious to see this enacted. I know I am, and the mayor’s office is as well,” Maiore said. She added that councilors could use the extra time to review the language with the goal of preventing any further delays.

Ward 1 Councilor Stanley Moulton said that, during Thursday’s public comment period, he listened to Downtown Northampton Association executive director Amy Cahillane describe the hardships that businesses and restaurants are still struggling to endure, including staffing shortages, exorbitant credit card fees, rising food prices and supply chain disruptions.

“The key words that I took away from her comments are that this (should) be a partnership and not punitive,” Moulton said.

Passing an ordinance requires two votes, or readings, by the full council. Maiore asked for both readings to be held back-to-back and councilors agreed, so the delay was approved.

City Council President James Nash noted that some restaurants and retail stores have made the switch to more environmentally friendly takeout containers, even though it is not yet required.

Ward 5 Councilor Alex Jarrett recused himself from the discussion and vote because the waste disposal company Pedal People, which he co-founded in 2002, has contracts with the city.

“I’ve recused myself from all the past workings of this particular ordinance, so I’m going to recuse here,” Jarrett said. “This ordinance might possibly have a financial impact on my business, so I’ll see you after the fact.”

Playground fund, gas money

Councilors also established a special districtwide account to fund playground upgrades at city schools and redirected $150,000 from Public Works salaries to help the department afford gas and diesel.

Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra introduced the idea of a central playground account as a way to streamline the funding of improvements at every school.

The council reprogrammed $34,553.24 from the Leeds/Bridge playground equipment fund, $15,000 from the schools’ AC electrical upgrades fund and $15,000 from the high school track resurfacing fund to build the playground account.

“That $15,000 was for a design (of the track project), but the consultant has stated that the track is actually in good shape and nothing is needed to be done for quite a few years,” Sciarra said, adding that there is “good potential” the work will not be needed until after 2027.

Passing a financial order requires two readings. Sciarra requested that both readings take place on Thursday night so that the order could pass immediately, and councilors voted to do so.

The council also allowed the DPW to take $75,000 each from two salary accounts — highway, and forestry and parks — and use the money instead to fund fuel purchases.

On June 2, when councilors gave their initial approval to the transfers, DPW Director Donna Lascaleia said fuel costs have almost doubled since this time last year. The salary money is “leftover from vacant positions,” she said.

The DPW headquarters houses the city’s municipal fleet fuel depot.

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.
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