Stockbridge looks to be next town to ban plastic bags

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STOCKBRIDGE — The town is one vote away from joining dozens of other Massachusetts communities that have banned the retail use of thin film plastic bags and disposable foam containers.

On Thursday, the town's Board of Health accepted a draft of regulations that would eliminate the bags at the check-out counter and prohibiting restaurants, cafes and other eateries from using polystyrene products for take-out food. The three-member panel has scheduled an April 27 public hearing to further review the proposed health-based rules, which the board could approve that night.

Based on recent surveys of local businesses, there may be little opposition at the hearing, according to James Wilusz, director of the Tri-Town Health Department that serves Stockbridge, Lee and Lenox. He noted a number of businesses already say they use recyclable bags, promote customers bringing reusable bags and have dropped foam containers from their inventory.

"I've had zero pushback on this," he told the board.

If the Stockbridge board enacts the bans, they would take effect Jan. 2, 2018. Stockbridge would follow Great Barrington, Lee, Lenox, Williamstown and Adams with similar prohibitions, with Pittsfield planning to follow suit on plastics bags. The city has already enacted a polystyrene ban.

In all, 54 cities and towns in the state have plastic bag prohibitions; dozens more forbid foam containers.

There are two pathways to enacting such a ban in the community: through the Board of Health or Annual Town Meeting. Stockbridge is working through its Board of Health, which will make it easier to tweak the regulations in the future.

Town meeting adopted bylaws can only be changed at subsequent town meetings held once or twice a year; the health board meets monthly.

"It's much easier to negotiate back and forth any changes at the board of health level," said board Chairman Henry Schwerner.

Details of the plastic bag ban:

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• Produce, dry cleaning, newspaper or pet waste bags are exempt.

• Reusable bags must be hand or machine washable and made of natural fibers such as linen or cotton; or durable, nontoxic plastic that is at least 4 millimeters thick.

• Consumers can use any bag of their choosing; the regulations only apply to retailers.

Details of the foam container ban:

• Bowls, plates, trays, cartons, cups, lids and hinged containers designed for one-time use are included.

• Nothing prohibits customers from using the above mentioned plastic goods.

• The regulations cover the full- or part-time, temporary or sporadic sale of prepared food by public, private, commercial and nonprofit entities.

The Board of Health hopes the bans are expanded to include more plastic products after the businesses and public adapt to the initial regulations.

"I think these are very reasonable and a good starting point," said Charles Kenny.

Reach staff writer Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.


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