Easthampton moves toward banning plastic grocery bags

  • Businesses would be banned from using plastic grocery bags under the proposed ordinance.  Keng Susumpow/via Flickr

Staff Writer
Published: 2/27/2020 3:39:57 PM

EASTHAMPTON — A ban on a number of single-use plastic items in the city — notably grocery bags — is being considered by the City Council’s Ordinance Committee, which will discuss it at its 6 p.m. meeting on March 10.

The ordinance would prohibit retail establishments from bagging their customers’ merchandise in single-use plastic bags, packaging loose food items in materials that are not biodegradable, and dispensing food items in polystyrene or expanded polystyrene containers (which are commonly used for takeout.) Single-use food service ware, including cups and utensils, must also be biodegradable under the ordinance.

The ban has a number of exceptions, including for food prepared or packaged outside of Easthampton, thin-film plastic bags used to contain newspapers, and flexible transparent coverings for raw meat. Additionally, it would allow the use of plastic bags that are biodegradable.

The ban would not go into effect until one year after passage. Violators would first be given a warning, and then fined $50 for the next violation within a year of the warning and $100 for each violation after that.

One item that the ordinance does not ban is plastic straws. Rather, it says that plastic straws will be available to customers upon request. City Councilor Owen Zaret, one of the ordinance’s co-sponsors, told the Gazette that this was done out of consideration for the disabled community.

The Massachusetts Sierra Club has expressed support for the ordinance in a letter.

“I think it’s important for everyone to do a plastic ban,” Zaret said. “Single-use plastics are a big problem on multiple levels.”

In a letter submitted to the council with the ordinance, Zaret said that Massachusetts residents are estimated to use more than 2 billion plastic bags per year. And in his comments to the council at the Feb. 19 meeting, he also said that 91 percent of plastics end up in landfills and in the environment.

A number of people spoke in favor of the ordinance during a public comment period at the Feb. 19 council meeting where the ordinance was sent to the ordinance committee.

“I think if we start out little, things get better,” said Annette Szczygiel.

Vincent Corsello, however, said the ban was arbitrary as currently written. Corsello, who owns and operates Corsello Butcheria, pulled out a number of items from a bag, some of which he said would be covered by the ban and others of which would not. For example, Corsello produced Amazon packaging that he noted would not be affected by the ban.

“I’m not sure how a city alone can solve this problem,” Corsello said.

Corsello said the ban would burden consumers and business owners, although he said he tries reduce the use of plastics in his business.

At the meeting, Zaret said although the topic needs to be looked at on a bigger level, “this is something we can do here.”

According to Zaret’s letter, 136 Massachusetts communities have enacted plastic bag bans and 46 have polystyrene restrictions. Northampton is one of the plastic bag ban communities.

Ordinance co-sponsor Lindsey Rothschild, the newest member of the City Council, said at the meeting that she’s canvassed a number of business owners and that people are already making changes in their stores.

“Our business owners in Easthampton are on board for this type of thing,” Rothschild said. 

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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