Pittsfield to seek public input on plan to ban plastic bags

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This story has been modified to clarify that the mailers will go to city businesses.

PITTSFIELD — Before deciding on an ordinance that would ban single-use plastic shopping bags in Pittsfield, officials want to hear from those most affected by the law.

To that end, the city will send out a mailer to city businesses to give them the opportunity to participate in upcoming meetings on the matter.

That was the determination on Monday by members of the Ordinance and Rules Committee, which tabled the measure pending more public input.

Several communities across the Berkshires have already voted to prohibit the use of plastic bags, which cannot be recycled, befoul local streets and waterways, and leach chemicals into soil and groundwater. The City Council has revived consideration of the measure, initially proposed by the Green Committee back in 2013.

The draft ordinance bans single-use plastic bags for retail sales, and would require the use of reusable bags or recyclable paper bags as checkout bags. The Board of Health would be charged with enforcing the measure, which could include written warnings, fines and temporary closures for repeat offenses.

Councilor At Large Melissa Mazzeo brushed off comments about the five years that passed since a bag ban petition first appeared before councilors, turning instead to ask Green Commission members why they took so long to refer it back to council.

"This is the first time it's sitting in my lap," she said.

Members said meetings happen infrequently and irregularly and membership turnover posed logistical challenges.

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol cast the sole vote against tabling it, expressing concern about lobbyists getting involved and the conversation languishing further.

"I don't want to get bogged down," he said.

The city's discussion about the ordinance comes as legislation advances at the state level that would accomplish the same goal. The state bill cleared the legislative Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture last week in a 13-1 vote.

State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, who chairs the committee, said Monday he predicts the number of municipalities with bag bans could rise to 100 this spring. The commonwealth is ready, he said, for statewide standardization. He said having so many disparate rules on this causes confusion for both retailer and consumer.

"Now's the time to do a statewide ban," he said. "I think it's an evolution — a big, bold step that's been chipped away, town by town."

Certain exemptions, including those for newspaper bags and aisle-side produce bags, exist in both the drafted city ordinance and the state bill.

Members of the Green Commission said the proposed ordinance does not call on retailers to charge for paper bags, as other municipalities have done to incentivize the use of reusable bags.

Pignatelli said the state bill would not require consumers to pay for paper bags. If passed, the state bill would supersede existing regulations at the municipal level.

Rinaldo Del Gallo, who filed the original petition in 2013, reminded councilors there are economic reasons as well as environmental ones to move the plastic bag ban forward.

"We are a tourist economy," he said. "It is vitally important that the place doesn't look like a dump."

Paul Durwin, a Norman Avenue resident who identifies himself as a diver, said he's tired of finding plastic bags in bodies of water.

And what's bad for sea creatures is bad for us, said a Roberts Street resident.

`Everything that ends up in the food chain is going to end up in us," Jeff Turner said.

Amanda Drane can be reached at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, at @amandadrane on Twitter, or at 413-496-6296.


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