Plastic bag ban proponents not deterred by sparse public input

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Undeterred by sparse public input, Lee and Lenox environmental officials are eager to rid their towns of single-use plastic shopping bags and polystyrene containers.

The Lee Recycling Committee and Lenox Environmental Committee, with guidance from the Tri-Town Health Department, are developing separate draft proposals banning retailers from using the bags and foam receptacles. The regulations likely would be put forth in Stockbridge as well, given Tri-Town would handle enforcement as the agency serves all three municipalities.

"My hope is to have the same regulations in all three towns," Tri-Town Director James Wilusz said.

On Tuesday night, Lee Recycling Committee Chairman Peter Hofman outlined before the Lee Board of Selectmen bylaws that have year-plus adjustment period for businesses and allow consumers to use the bag/food containers of their choice.

"The purpose is to promote reusable bags, not paper or plastic," he said.

Lee will seek approval from Annual Town Meeting in May; Lenox and Stockbridge are looking to their boards of health to adopt the regulations following public hearings. If approved in any of the towns, the regulations would be phased in, allowing businesses to use up the supply of bags and containers already in stock.

The discussion of the proposed plastic bag/polystyrene ban comes after a total of about 50 residents attended three public information since late January: two in Lee and a third last Thursday in Lenox.

Chairman of the Lenox Environmental Committee, Eric Federer, doubts apathy is the issue in his town.

"In some respects this is a non-event," Federer told The Eagle. "People support it and perhaps wish we'd done this sooner."

"After all, Lenox is the first and only town in Massachusetts to have voluntary food composting," he noted.

Hofman believes with many businesses in Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge and surrounding communities already forging the bags and foam containers, the bans are as much a grass-roots as a regulatory movement.

"And each of our communities has many residents who shop in towns with plastic bag and/or polystyrene regulations or even shop in our towns and don't accept polystyrene containers and bring their own bags," he said in a separate Eagle interview.

What meager debate the public forums has generated on the issue has been spirited. Speaking in late January, Lee Selectman David Consolati was outspoken over the term "single use," noting consumers often use the plastic bags to line trash cans or clean up dog feces. He and Lee town meeting representative John Coty also note Big Y and other grocery chains do recycle the bags and that reusable bags aren't necessarily a environmentally or healthy alternative.

On Tuesday, Consolati quietly listened to Hofman's presentation, with Coty urging proponents to focus on the bigger picture.

"I believe more in recycling than bans or regulations," Coty said.

Proponents point out local retailers — especially supermarkets — use millions of plastic bags each year that are a threat to the environment and difficult to recycle. Business community support for the bans is growing, provided they get help adjusting to the new regulations.

"Most [Lenox] businesses are for this, we just want alternatives," said Purple Plume owner Judie Culver, a member of the Lenox Merchants Association, who said she was speaking on her own behalf.

Future local debate on eliminating single-use plastic bags and polystyrene containers could be moot if statewide bans are imposed.

Several bills proposing a statewide ban on both the bags and foam containers are pending on Beacon Hill, with 22 out of the commonwealth's 351 cities and towns having enacted at least one of the two.

Lee Selectman Patricia Carlino prefers her town take the initiative.

"I would rather have something in place that fits [Lee] than wait for [the Legislature]," she said Tuesday night.

As of Feb. 1, six communities — including Great Barrington and Williamstown —have banned both foam containers and plastic bags, In all, a total of 18 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 1.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.

Polystyrene

• Consumers may use their own containers

• Eateries are prohibited from using foam or rigid polystyrene food and drink containers

PLASTIC BAGS

• Consumers may use the bags of their choice

• Polyethylene bags are prohibited at the point of sale.

• Raw food and bulk item bags must be compostable.

• For free or a cost, high-quality, reusable bags; recyclable paper bags and cardboard boxes must be provided at checkout.

Effective date: 12 months after bylaws are approved by state Attorney General

Enforcement: Tri-Town Health Department would investigate complaints of violations.

Penalties: 1st violation, warning; 2nd, $50 fine; 3rd, $100 fine; 4th and subsequent violation $200. Repeat and flagrant violations may lead to suspension, revocation or denial of town permits/licenses.


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