Pittsfield council tables plastic bag ban vote, for now

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PITTSFIELD — A plastic bag ban that spent nearly six years winding through city committees will have to wait a bit longer to come to a final vote.

During their meeting Tuesday, councilors came to loggerheads over a provision in the proposed legislation that would force retailers to charge customers 5 cents per paper bag.

"Who are we to say they can't give them away?" asked Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell. "That's ridiculous."

The council took a failed 5-5 vote to remove that provision, with other councilors arguing that the charge would encourage consumers to bring reusable bags, which would be better for the environment.

Connell called the split vote a harbinger of things to come with the measure's overall vote, given that Council President Peter Marchetti is out of town, and moved to table the matter until his return. Councilors voted 6-4 to table.

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.

Since then, councilors on the Ordinances and Rules Committee debated whether to make exceptions for certain types of single-use plastic bags and whether to allow the use of biodegradable bags. They unanimously recommended the ban this month.

If it should pass, councilors voted Tuesday to bump its start date to Jan. 1. The ban would allow for compostable alternatives that mimic plastic bags, and Councilor At Large Melissa Mazzeo passed along examples for councilors to feel.

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Trash from the city — plastic bags included — gets incinerated, some councilors noted, and they worried out loud about passing along costs to consumers and whether the proliferation of paper bags would be worse for the environment.

"Do we really need this now?" Connell asked. "Because we don't have our waste going to the landfill."

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi said he doesn't see a lot of plastic bags befouling the environment, but instead sees nip bottles to be enemy No. 1. He also said people don't clean reusable cloth bags, and that poses a health risk at grocery stores.

Mazzeo, who voted in favor of recommending the bag ban in subcommittee, said she's still struggling with the issue and worries about creating new problems while trying to solve others.

"We're kind of caught in the middle," she said.

Still, Mazzeo said she sees compostable alternatives as a solution, as they allow consumers to continue using them for such things as lining wastebaskets.

Councilor at Large Pete White argued in favor of the ban and for the 5-cent charge to discourage use of paper and compostable bags.

"This is a culture shift," he said. "And when you're trying to change people's habits, it's not always an easy thing to do."

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


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