GREAT BARRINGTON -- Large food retailers with stores in Great Barrington say they will embrace the town's new ban on plastic bags, but are not sure what customers will use to replace them.
Voters at the annual town meeting approved the ban on plastic bags earlier this month. Violators will be assessed fines ranging from $50 to $200 for the distribution of plastic bags.
The new town bylaw is scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1, but its implementation could be delayed until mid-August because the measure also requires approval from the state Attorney General's office, said Select Board Chairman Sean Stanton.
Price Chopper, one of the town's largest distributors of plastic bags, will eliminate them entirely from its Great Barrington store, which will become the first of the chain's 131 markets in six states to not offer plastic bags, company spokeswoman Mona Golub said.
But Golub said she's uncertain what Price Chopper will replace the plastic bags with. Plastic bags are used by 98.4 percent of the chain's customers, she said.
"We are strategizing about the options that can be offered to transition through this," Golub said.
According to the bylaw, retail establishments in Great Barrington could be fined $50 for a first violation of the ordinance, and an additional $50 each day until the violation is corrected. The penalty will increase to $100 for a second violation of the bylaw until it is corrected, and to $200 for a third violation.
The Police Department will enforce the new bylaw. Stanton said ongoing discussions will take place about how businesses that have already purchased plastic bags in bulk can be phased into the new ordinance.
Most recently in Massachusetts, Manchester-by-the-Sea passed a plastic bag ban at its annual town meeting this year. Brookline approved a plastic bag ban in 2012.
Earlier this year, state legislators on the joint Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Committee advanced bills in both the House and Senate that would ban single-use plastic bags at retail stores larger than 4,000 square feet.
Rather than deal with bylaws on a town-by-town basis, Golub said the Schenectady, N.Y.- based Price Chopper is ready to join with legislators at the state and federal level to devise a comprehensive solution.
"We would advocate for a more comprehensive answer," Golub said. "The intent is noble, but we believe a state law or federal law that would universalize the playing field everywhere would create a better approach."
Big Y Foods of Springfield, Great Barrington's other large supermarket chain, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
Stanton originally proposed the new bylaw after watching the documentary film "Bag It," which warns of the dangers plastic bags pose to the environment.
"[Grocery stores] see the writing on the wall as far as a a trend," Stanton said. "We aren't the first community in the U.S., and there are entire countries where this has been done."
Stanton said he understands paper bags are more costly for businesses to purchase than plastic bags, but he said the bylaw was intended to encourage individuals to use reusable bags.
Guido's Fresh Marketplace has stores in both Great Barrington and Pittsfield. Manager of Marketing and Communications Dawn Masiero said the store would eliminate plastic bags in Great Barrington, but was unsure what will be used to replace the 500,000 plastic bags that customers used last year.
Customers of Guido's currently have the options of using paper bags, plastic bags or cardboard boxes.
Both Guido's and Price Chopper said they sell reusable bags and offer a rebate for customers who use them.
"I feel like the community has spoken and it's a great thing," Masiero said. "We are still in the process of assessing how we would tweak our offerings."