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Ban the Plastic Bag!

On this cold and rainy/sleety spring day (I use the term "spring" loosely) I am contemplating an article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette this week about the potential ban of single use plastic bags in the city of Northampton, MA. Though our city is a progressive community, it is interesting how long it takes to effect a simple change that would have a positive effect on the environment if it were implemented.  Perhaps it would also help bolster the implementation of similar changes in other cities and states in our country (leading by example).  Many of us have already gotten into the habit of bringing our own bags into stores when we shop.  Businesses such as Serios in downtown Northampton (and River Valley Market) have stopped using plastic bags of their own volition - Serio's even has reusable bags on hand to borrow if need be.  The following article points out that entire countries (Italy and Bangladesh) and the state of California have already instituted such bans.   Below is a photo which illustrates what 18,000+ plastic bags looks like, put together by the students of Northampton schools.  At present, Northampton uses about 10 million plastic bags per year alone! Hopefully, Mayor David Narkewicz and the City Council will approve the ban and have it take effect imminently. 

Northampton officials hear pros, cons on plastic bag ban

  • GENA MANGIARATTI A ball of more than 18,000 plastic bags tied and rolled together by students in Northampton schools.

    GENA MANGIARATTI A ball of more than 18,000 plastic bags tied and rolled together by students in Northampton schools.

NORTHAMPTON — Though many residents are in favor of a proposed ban on single-use plastic bags in Northampton, some business owners have hesitations about its impact on retailers.

“Your ideas are very admirable, but I think you need to step back and look at the timing,” said Steve Elkins of Deerfield, who owns WEBS Yarn Store on Service Center Road.

He explained that many businesses might still be absorbing costs of other recent measures, such as the city stormwater fee and the state’s mandatory paid sick leave.

Elkins was among some 20 Valley residents who turned out to a public hearing Tuesday night on proposed changes to the city code that would ban the use of most plastic bags starting Jan. 1, 2016. The hearing was hosted by the City Council and the Committee on Economic & Community Development, Housing and Land Use in an effort to gather public opinion on the idea.

Elkins noted that his store would not be affected by a plastic bag ban, but he said he is concerned for those who would be. He suggested that the city hold off for another year before issuing the ban.

“You can’t keep lumping costs onto businesses and expect them to be here,” he said after the meeting.

The changes to the city code would ban supermarkets and other retail stores from using plastic bags that are 1.5 thousandth of an inch or thinner, making them suitable only for a single use. The proposed changes also state that these establishments should use only bags that are biodegradable, thick enough to be reused, or that can be composted.

Thin plastic bags used to contain dry cleaning, newspapers, produce, meat and bulk foods, as well as plastic coverings for many foods, are exempt from the ban.

If the ban is approved, Northampton would follow in the footsteps of Newburyport, Cambridge, Newton, Brookline, the state of California, and countries including Italy and Bangladesh that have already implemented bans on plastic bags.

Last summer, a proposal to ban plastic bags throughout Massachusetts stalled in the Legislature. But locally, businesses including Serio’s Market and River Valley Market have already stopped issuing plastic bags.

Councilor Jesse Adams, who is recommending the ban in Northampton, said he believes it would get businesses ahead of the curve should the statewide ban be implemented in the future.

Acme Surplus owner Mark Rosenzweig of Williamsburg said he is concerned that the ban could send shoppers to other communities to do their shopping.

“It’s a difficult retail environment,” he told the committee.

But several individuals expressed their support for the ban Tuesday.

Jessica Gifford of Grove Street said she does not believe people will leave the city for conveniences such as not being charged for forgetting their reusable bags.

“I’m really happy that this is hopefully happening,” Gifford said. “I believe if entire countries can do this, then we can do this.” 

According to a display outside of City Council Chambers, the city still uses about 10 million plastic bags a year — and the point was well illustrated with a giant ball of 18,079 bags collected, rolled and tied together by students in Northampton schools.

City Councilor Paul Spector, who is recommending the ban along with Adams, said the ball was so heavy that Council President Bill Dwight was unable to lift it.

Jessica Tanner, of West Street, expressed concern regarding the allowed thickness of the plastic bags. In other communities with plastic bag bans, she said bag manufacturers have found a way around it by producing bags that are thicker, but still only intended for one use.

“I urge the Northampton City Council to adopt a ban without loopholes,” she said.

The proposed ordinance allows businesses that can show economic hardship to defer compliance with the ban for up to three six-month-periods. Tanner suggested that this be reduced to one six-month-period.

Tanner also read a statement on behalf of Hollis Wheeler, of Denise Court, urging the city to allow no plastic bags thinner than five thousandths of an inch.

Tina Ingmann, of Park Hill Road in Florence, also spoke in favor of the ban.

“At this juncture of humanity, you have to move beyond what’s convenient,” she said.

The proposed ban will need approval from City Council and Mayor David Narkewicz before taking effect.

Gena Mangiaratti can be reached at gmangiaratti@gazettenet.com.

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