Pittsfield City Council unanimously votes to ban single-use plastic bags

A cashier bags groceries in February at the Big Y in Pittsfield. The Pittsfield City Council voted unanimously at their Tuesday meeting to ban the use of single-use plastic bags in the city. The ban goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

PITTSFIELD — "You can pick up your dog's poop with it," Councilor At Large Earl Persip said, holding up a compostable bag allowed under a new ban approved Tuesday by the City Council.

It's the "same as any other plastic bag," he said, stressing that it seems residents are unaware of the permitted alternatives.

Compromise was the word of the night, which ended with a unanimous vote in favor of the ban on single-use plastic bags. The amended ordinance allows stores to use degradable bags that closely mimic thin-film plastic ones, and does not require companies to charge for paper and other bag types at the register.

It took the council more than a year to pick apart the ban and mold it into the legislation approved Tuesday. The ban takes effect Jan. 1 of next year.

City resident Rinaldo Del Gallo filed the original petition in 2013, in an effort to protect Pittsfield's natural resources and take part in a larger movement to reduce plastics in the environment. Based on that petition, the city's Green Commission referred a drafted ordinance to the City Council in January 2018.

Councilor At Large Melissa Mazzeo said the many compostable alternatives that residents can use to line wastebaskets were crucial to her support for the measure.

"If this blows down the road," she said, holding up the plastic lookalike, then "it's gonna break down."

She proposed the city reach out to businesses in hopes of educating them about biodegradable options, which she'd rather see them offer than paper.

While questions linger about how successfully the compostable bags degrade, councilors agreed they're better than plastic.

Councilors argued over whether or not to require stores charge five cents for paper and compostable options at the register — a policy adopted in other communities as a way to incentivize customers to bring their own reusable bags.

Councilors John Krol and Pete White argued strongly in favor of the measure, with Krol calling it "the teeth" behind the cultural shift.

But Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell said telling businesses what to charge at the register means "walking a very thin line."

Ultimately, the council voted 6-5 to remove that requirement from the measure.

A recurring theme throughout councilors' conversations surrounded the fact that the city's waste gets incinerated at Covanta. But Persip pointed to park cleanups and streetside trash pickup efforts to show "everything does not make it into the incinerator."

Even though many residents find secondary uses for thin-film plastic bags, Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon said, they would each have to reuse more than a thousand bags per year in order to make up for each U.S. resident's fair share of the country's annual bag use. Many don't get reused and the end result, she said, is "an overabundance of plastic bags."

"I think this also is a pragmatic ordinance," Ward 3 Councilor Nick Caccamo said, noting aforementioned compromises that make it more palatable. "Frankly, using less plastic in our daily lives is a good thing."

Del Gallo has attended council meetings since the measure made it to chambers last year, and said he's "elated" by the outcome.

"It's a big victory," he said after the meeting. "And it's a push forward for a ban statewide."

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