Lee, Lenox explore bans on foam containers, plastic bags

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Lee and Lenox may jump on the burgeoning bandwagon of Massachusetts cities and towns banning polystyrene containers and single-use plastic bags within their borders.

The neighboring municipalities are working together to research, develop and gain community support for bylaw changes to minimize or eliminate the use of the dining and shopping items.

The Lee Recycling Committee and Lenox Environmental Committee collaboration is being aided by the state Department of Environmental Protection, which is lending a staff member — free of charge — to provide guidance and technical assistance to the joint venture.

The committees hope to bring bylaw proposals to their respective communities' annual town meetings in May.

"The whole look at polystyrene and plastic bags is about waste reduction," said Peter Hoffman, chairman of the Lee Recycling Committee.

The reduction comes in the form of eateries using environmentally friendly and recyclable food containers as well as driving consumers toward keeping handy reusable shopping bags.

"I probably have eight of them in my car," noted Lenox Environmental Committee Chairman Eric Federer. "It becomes habit forming, especially shopping for food."

As of December 2013, only Nantucket banned both foam containers and plastic bags, with Great Barrington just polystryene. Great Barrington has since added the bag ban, and now a total of 17 communities across the commonwealth prohibit the use of plastic bags.

Pittsfield recently joined a group of 10 municipalities that now outlaw polystryene. It's bylaw takes effect in July. Great Barrington and Williamstown are among the six with both bans in place.

The effort by Lee and Lenox to prohibit the foam containers and bags stems from research that they are harmful to the environment, according to the two committees.

Based upon national statistics, the two communities use 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.

The move to explore the bans grew out of citizen petitions placed before the annual town meetings in both towns this past May. They were spearheaded by Pittsfield attorney Rinaldo Del Gallo, who pushed hard for the polystyrene in his city. The proposals were unexpected and placed on the respective town meeting warrants without any formal public debate.

The measures were passed over, but they prompted both towns to initiate their own review process of whether the bans are worth pursuing.

"We need to raise the issue, but in the right way," Hoffman said. "It needs to be a transparent process.

"We are approaching all the businesses and restaurants individually as we felt it was important to meet with them early on," Hoffman said.

Shortly after the New Year, Lee and Lenox environmental officials plan to hold public input meetings on the potential bans, with businesses and restaurants already being approached individually for feedback.

Federer said any proposed town bylaws take into account the economic impact of banning foam containers and plastic bags, if better alternatives come along.

"As new products come our way, say new plastic bags that are biodegradeable," he said, "the regulation should be flexible."

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.

At a glance ...

In Western Massachusetts, several communities ban polystyrene containers or re-usable plastic bags. Great Barrington and Williamstown ban both. Polystyrene is banned in Amherst, Pittsfield and South Hadley; Plastic bags are banned in Northampton.


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