LEE — The concept of banning single-use plastic bags has apparently polarized the community with both sides citing data, studies and personal experiences regarding the merits of such a prohibition.
Proponents point out the millions of plastic bags local retailers — especially supermarkets — use each year, the threat to the environment and the difficulty in recycling them.
"I see these bags in trees," said Diane Wespiser. "You can walk Maple, Street, Summer Street, they are everywhere."
Opponents say people often us the thin, flimsy carryalls to line small wastebaskets at home or clean up after their dogs, can recycle them at Big Y and other grocery chains and that using reusable bags isn't necessarily a environmentally or healthy alternative.
"A lot of the [reusable] bags come from China and they have been found to have lead," claimed John Coty.
The dueling information was exchanged Thursday at Lee Middle and High School during the first of several public forms in Lee and Lenox as the communities consider separate town by-laws ridding both municipalities of the bags and polystyrene food containers.
Additional public input sessions are scheduled Feb. 25 at Lee middle and High School and March 10 at Lenox memorial Middle and High School, both at 7 p.m. A fourth gathering is likely at the end of March, possible to review proposed by-laws.
The Lee Recycling Committee and Lenox Environmental Committee are working together to research, develop and gain community backing for bylaw changes to minimize or eliminate the use of the items. The committees hope to develop proposed regulations — possibly to be voted on in May at their respective annual town meetings — depending on the amount of support for either measure.
The effort by Lee and Lenox to prohibit the stems from research that they are harmful to the environment, according to the two committees.
Based upon national statistics, the communities use, combined, an estimated 6 million plastic shopping bags — 33 tons of plastic — 90 percent of which ends up in the solid waste stream, the towns have learned. In addition, more than 865,000 foam cups and an indeterminate number polystyrene food containers annually flow from the towns.
Lee Selectman David Consolati challenged those figures.
"The only place I see polystyrene cups is the large coffee at Dunkin Donuts," he said. "Your pamphlet is primarily propaganda ... and it doesn't mean we have to swallow it."
Consolati also cited a study that 80 to 85 percent of plastic bags are used for other purposes and often thrown in the trash after a second or third use.
Lee Recycling Committee Chairman Peter Hofman said, if anything, the numbers show the need to reduce the need for the plastic bags.
"There is no agenda behind the numbers we have — whether two million or seven million that's a lot of bags," he said.
The ultimate goal for plastic bag/polystyrene supporters is eateries using environmentally friendly and recyclable food containers as well as driving consumers toward keeping handy reusable shopping bags.
Coty questioned the cleanliness of reusable bags, fearing they would put store employees who handle them at risk.
Several bills proposing a state-wide ban on both the bags and foam containers are pending on Beacon Hill, with 22 out of the commonwealth's 351 cities and towns having enacted at least one of the two.
As of Feb. 1, six communities — including Great Barrington and Williamstown — have banned both foam containers and plastic bags, In all, a total of 18 communities across the commonwealth prohibit the use of plastic bags. Pittsfield recently joined the group of 10 municipalities that now outlaw polystyrene. Its bylaw takes effect in July 1.