Pittsfield's Green Commission weighing plastic bag ban

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PITTSFIELD — With a ban on polystyrene containers becoming a reality, advocate Rinaldo Del Gallo and the city Green Commission are considering taking one step further — a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags.

During a preliminary discussion Monday, Del Gallo outlined a proposed ordinance banning plastic bags, which he said is a basic framework that could be amended.

A ban on disposable foam containers for prepared foods was approved by the City Council in October following a long review and a number of amendments. It is set to take effect on July 1.

"I think there is a need to go through the same process again," said Commission Chairman Joseph LaRoche, referring to a review over several meetings that led to a unanimous recommendation to the council's Ordinance and Rules Committee in March in favor of the foam container ban.

Commissioner and Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo suggested inviting city Health Director Gina Armstrong to the next meeting to hear her views, as the Health Department is designated as the primary enforcement agent through its inspectors.

Nancy Nylen, another commissioner, and James McGrath, the city's Parks and Open Space manager, said they would like to hear from those who advocated for a recently passed plastic bag ban in Williamstown and possibly from a retailer in Great Barrington, where a ban was approved in 2013.

Both towns also have polystyrene foam container bans as well. Great Barrington's was approved in 1990, and Williamstown voters passed both bans in May.

McGrath said the commission should invite several people to the group's January meeting for a discussion.

A public hearing, similar to one held for the foam ban ordinance, also was suggested.

Concerning the foam ban, Del Gallo said, business owners who might be affected were specifically contacted and invited. He said he would like to see environmental groups invited as well to talk about plastic bags.

His 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.

All food and beverage grocery bags would be required to be "only reusable bags," but the ordinance would allow "plastic bags to carry vegetables, fruits, meat, or bulk food produce from a vegetable, fruit, bulk food or meat department within a store to the point of sale."

In support of the ban, the proposal states that "the production and use of plastic bags has significant environmental impacts each year, including the use of over 12 million barrels of oil. Each year, 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide many of which end up as litter each year."

Under the ordinance, the Board of Health would inspect retail establishments for compliance with the bag ban, and one enforcement option involves a board order closing down a retail establishment.

After 10 separate violations by a retail establishment on 10 different days within a 360-day period, the board could hold a public hearing to decide whether to order the business closed. Closures ordered by the board of up to six months are provided under the ordinance.

Fines following a written warning also are possible of $100 for a first violation and $250 for a second or subsequent violation.

Enforcement of the ordinance provisions is possible through "the Board of Health or its designee," or "the Police Department or its designee," according to the draft ordinance.

Any member of the public could file a complaint with the Board of Health concerning a possible violation of the ban.

Under a definitions section, the Board of Health is authorized to determine whether something meets the definition of a checkout bag, a recyclable paper bag, a reusable bag, a checkout bag, or a food and beverage checkout bag.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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