Lee, Lenox weigh ban on plastic bags, polystyrene containers

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Lee and Lenox residents soon will have the chance to weigh in on whether to rid their towns of polystyrene containers and single-use plastic bans — with one Lee Selectmen dead set against the bag ban.

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 groups will share what they've learned so far during a informational and public input session scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 28 in the auditorium at Lee Middle and High School on Greylock Street in Lee.

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 foam containers and bags 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 Selectmen David Consolati, however, is not buying proponents' claim the prohibition is, in part, for health reasons.

"I'm not going to die handling a plastic bag with my groceries," he said at a recent Selectmen's meeting.

"So much related to health is long term exposure," said Lee Recycling Committee Chairman Peter Hofman in an Eagle interview.

Consolati also objected to the notion that the Tri-Town Board of Health could adopt either ban on Lee's behalf over a Lee town meeting vote. Lenox and Stockbridge are the other Tri-Town members.

"You'll usurp our authority and that of [town meeting] representatives," he told Tri-Town Director James Wilusz. "I don't expect the Board of Health to tell us what to do."

Initially, Lee and Lenox have been working toward potential, separate town meeting votes and their collaboration doesn't include Stockbridge.

But Wilusz said 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.

"This is not a power struggle by any means," he told the board. "We don't roll out anything that doesn't fit the [Tri-Town board]."

Several municipalities across the state have enacted similar bans, but thus far, South Hadley is the only community to approve a ban as a board of health regulation, officials said.

The Lee-Lenox 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 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.

A reachable goal with the help of merchants and raising the consciousness of students — at least in Lenox, according to Lenox Environmental Committee Chairman Eric Federer.

As of December, six communities — including Great Barrington and Williamstown — have banned both foam containers and plastic bags, In all, a total of 17 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.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.


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