GREAT BARRINGTON -- Beginning at the start of the new year, Great Barrington retailers will be prohibited from using plastic bags to package items at the checkout counter.
The town approved a new plastic bag reduction bylaw at its annual town meeting back in May. The Great Barrington Board of Selectmen voted 4-0 on Monday to begin implementing the ban on plastic bags, effective January 1, 2014. The board could have enacted the bylaw as early as July 1, but said the January date will give the town time to do outreach and education on the new bylaw, and for businesses to wind down their current stock of plastic bags.
"The idea is not to make it onerous, but doable," said Selectwoman Deborah Phillips, about the delayed implementation date.
One selectman, Dan Bailly, abstained from voting, questioning the merits of the bylaw.
"I think it's a little over the top and I don't think it will amount to a whole lot on this big issue," he said.
During May's town meeting, voters approved an article that bans the production and use of single-use plastic bags in town because of potential harm to the environment done by these bags, which biodegrade slowly.
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.
Great Barrington officials say a public information campaign on the plastic bag ban will start in the fall.
Violators will be assessed fines ranging from $50 to $200 for the distribution of plastic bags at checkout stations. Exceptions will be made for thin-film plastic bags used to contain dry cleaning, newspapers, produce, meat, bulk foods, wet items and other similar merchandise.
"The more consumers take ownership the better it's going to be," said Phillips.
Large retailers told The Eagle in May that they will embrace the new bylaw, but also have questions about cost-effective options for replacing plastic bags.
Language in the article on the May town warrant said, "Customers are encouraged to bring their own reusable or biodegradable shopping bags to stores," and that retailers will also be permitted to offer their own reusable or recyclable thick plastic, paper, fabric or other types of bags at no charge or at a fee, as they so desire.
"Retail establishments are strongly encouraged to make reusable bags available for sale to customers at a reasonable price," the article stated.
Price Chopper, one of the town's largest distributors of plastic bags, said it will comply with the bylaw. The store would be the first of the chain's 131 markets in six states not to offer plastic bags at the checkout. Plastic bags are used by 98.4 percent of the chain's customers, a spokeswoman said.
Guido's Fresh Marketplace has stores in both Great Barrington and Pittsfield. The store is reviewing options to replace the 500,000 plastic bags that were used by customers last year, according to a spokesman.
The town's Board of Health will be in charge of administering non-criminal complaint tickets for businesses that continue to use plastic bags after Jan. 1.
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 is corrected, and to $200 for a third violation.