LENOX — A year from now, Lenox retailers, restaurants and certain non-commercial entities will no longer be permitted to use foam containers and single-use plastic bags.
The town's Board of Health on Thursday unanimously approved regulations to ban polystyrene food receptacles at local eateries, nursing homes and other establishments that serve food. The three-member board also adopted a prohibition against most plastic bags retailers use at the check-out counter.
The dual approval came following a sparsely attended, 30 minute public hearing at Town Hall.
The bans take effect June 9, 2017, giving both businesses and consumers a year to adjust to the new regulations, according to town officials.
"Once the timeline kicks in, we'll do more outreach on the regulations," said Tri-Town Health Department Director James Wilusz, whose agency serves Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge.
The new health codes are flexible enough to allow retailers to use viable recyclable plastic bags as they come onto the market, Wilusz added.
"We also want to work with people to identify alternatives [to polystyrene]," said Eric Federer, chairman of the Lenox Environmental Committee.
Lenox becomes the 39th Massachusetts municipality — up 12 since December — that have banned either foam containers or plastic bags, with Lee, Great Barrington and Williamstown among the several adopting both. The state Senate also passed a similar measure recently, which could eventually lead to stricter statewide regulations.
The vast majority of the cities and towns that have enacted either or both bans in the commonwealth sought town meeting or city council approval. Lenox is one of the few to go through the Board of Health.
Under state law, boards of health have the option to adopt plastic bag and polystyrene bans for their communities as a way to streamline the process. The board can revise the regulations more quickly than the time it takes to call another town meeting to act on bylaw revisions, local health officials have said.
A couple of Lenox residents raised health concerns over re-usable bags replacing single-use ones. They cited studies that reusable bags not regularly can spread disease from raw food continually placed in the bags.
Wilusz noted other studies that found no definitive link between reusable bags and a spike in bacterial illness in a community with a bag ban.
"The restriction, in my opinion, won't cause any additional health issues as the evidence is inconclusive," he said.
Furthermore, Wilusz learned from health officials in Great Barrington, Williamstown and other municipalities across the commonwealth have had no health problems since enacting their own a ban on single-use plastic bags.
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413 496-6233.