PITTSFIELD — The city has taken another step toward eliminating single-use plastic bags.
The Green Commission on Monday unanimously approved a draft ordinance banning the bags. If the City Council approves the measure, which is designed to promote the use of reusable bags, the measure would go into effect in September 2018.
The move would make Pittsfield the sixth Berkshire County community to prohibit distribution of the bags at store checkouts.
"The commission felt strongly that it was worthwhile initiative and that plastic bags should be phased out in the City of Pittsfield," said James McGrath, city park, open space and natural resource program manager.
He added that the proposed 2018 startup was designed to give retailers time to use its stock of existing bags and determine the type of bags it would offer alternatively.
"We want to make certain that there is plenty of time for retailers to get ready for this change," he said.
This is the second petition from local attorney and activist Rinaldo Del Gallo III that resulted in action from the commission.
He also presented it with the idea to prohibit the use of disposable Styrofoam food and drink containers. Both ideas were presented in 2014.
The commission took up the Styrofoam ban first. That ban became effective in July 1, 2016.
"I am so pleased at the work the Pittsfield Green Commission has done," Del Gallo wrote in a statement. "It truly is a community victory, with so much that is owed to so many who are truly concerned about the environment."
A draft of the proposed ordinance states single-use plastic bags have a "significant" negative impact on the environment, including animal ingestion, blocked storm drains, and the use of non-renewable fossil fuels to create.
Compostable and biodegradable bags also would be off limits, according to the draft ordinance.
The "bags require very specific and controlled conditions in order to biodegrade, and have potentially negative environmental effects similar to conventional plastic bags," it reads.
If a retailer provides, or sells, bags to customers, they must be recyclable paper or reusable. But bags would be free to members of state and federal food assistance programs, according to the draft. Fines would be issued to businesses who violate the ban.
The Board of Health would be responsible for monitoring the ordinance and punishment would be cumulative: A written warning for a first offense, followed by fines of $50, and $100 for subsequent violations. Each day of a violation would count as a separate offense.
McGrath said the commission's decision will be sent to the council in time for its April meeting.
The council will likely forward the matter to the ordinance and rules subcommittee for its review, which would send it back to the full council for an up or down vote.
The commission voted to recommend that the council consider the adoption a plastic-bag ban in January. At that time it also established a subcommittee to review ordinances from other Massachusetts communities before drafting its own.
The commission's draft, based on that research, was approved Monday night by the eight members present. Three members were absent.
Great Barrington was the first Berkshire County community to ban the use of single-use plastic bags. Williamstown, Lee, Lenox, and Adams have also banned them.
Del Gallo has also filed citizens petitions for warrant articles banning Styrofoam and single-use plastic bags in Adams, Lee, Lenox and Dalton. He recently was honored at the Statehouse for his efforts.
Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo.