As a proposed state-wide ban works its way across Beacon Hill, Great Barrington, Massachusetts this past week became the fourth municipality in the commonwealth to ban the small plastic bags typically used for check-out at supermarkets.
The bylaw approved by Great Barrington Town Meeting prohibits the use of most single-use plastic bags at retail establishments in town, as of July first. Other plastic bags, like those used for dry cleaning or delivered newspapers, are exempt from the ban.
Advocates cite the bags’ tendency to enter waterways and harm wildlife, as well as their resistance to decomposition once they’re thrown away.
Andrew Blechman is a selectperson in town and an editor at environmentally minded magazine Orion.
“Reality is, these plastic bags are made to be disposable, but they don’t dispose of, you can’t really dispose of them. They’re non-biodegradable. They’re basically: once you create it, that’s it. They’re a scourge.”
The penalty increases from fifty dollars to two hundred dollars a day for repeat offenses—a burden that opponents don’t want to see land on employers, in addition to the cost and effort of switching from plastic bags to an alternative like paper.
Even some environmentalists say only a firm move away from any single-use bags, paper included, is worth the expense and hassle.
Great Barrington resident Mickey Friedman describes himself as a committed, lifelong environmentalist, opposed to the plastic bag ban.
“It’s got an incredible impact on people’s lives. It affects our major employers. You know, we have three large shopping facilities who employ a large number of people in this community. We have a number of small merchants who routinely offer people: paper or plastic.”
The town’s move follows similar action in Manchester-by-the-Sea and Brookline, plus Nantucket, which prohibited the bags back in 1990. The Rhode Island town of Barrington became the first in that state to outlaw plastic bags last year, and a state-wide proposal to cut down on their use is now under discussion there.
Massachusetts State Senator Ben Downing, whose district includes Great Barrington, says he received one hundred and twenty emails from constituents supporting a state-wide ban when a proposal to restrict their use among large retailers passed through a joint Senate/House committee last month.
He supports a ban.
“I think everyone agrees that moving to more re-usable bags makes much more sense for the environment.”
The Massachusetts bill is now before the House Ways and Means committee. Right now there’s no timeline for a vote.