In a surprise move, the small town of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, passed a new bylaw that bans the use of non-degradable plastic bags by retail establishments. The legislation was brought forward by citizens as a referendum item. Despite opposition from the Finance Committee and Board of Selectmen, both of which did not recommend passage, the measure was approved by the town meeting and will go into effect in July 2017. The bill, which does not explicitly support the use of reusable tote bags and reusable grocery bags, is nonetheless a tacit nod toward those residents who have already adopted their use.
While there are a number of scattered communities in Massachusetts that have enacted legislation to encourage the use of reusable shopping bags and discourage the use of single use retail bags, the Shrewsbury legislation is an outright ban. Retailers in the Central Massachusetts town will have to stop using the familiar thin plastic bags as of July 1, 2017 or face a series of penalties that start with a warning and culminate in a $100 fine per violation. The impact of that fine is blunted by a provision that only allows a business to be charged with one violation in any 7-day period. Without that restriction, fines could easily mount to tens of thousands of dollars daily.
The town’s decision places it at the forefront of the movement to ban plastic shopping bags in the Central Mass region. Other cities and towns have attempted to pass similar legislation without success. In Worcester, for example, city councilor Konstantina Lukes filed a plastic bag ban 10 years ago, but it was tabled and eventually disposed of through inaction. Lukes refiled the petition last month, and says she will continue to refile it until action is taken on it.
“I had hoped we could be the first in the region (to pass a plastic grocery bag ban),” Lukes told local reporters, but conceded that the passage of the Shrewsbury bill could pave the way for her own proposal to pass. State legislators are also pleased with Shrewsbury’s decision to ban plastic bags. Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and State Representative Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead) both say that they are encouraged by the new bylaw, and feel that it paves the way for statewide legislation.
A bill which they co-sponsor has the support of the Massachusetts Food Association, a coalition representing grocers in the state. Grocery retailers are traditionally opposed to plastic bag bans, which they say can have a negative financial impact on retailers With a year to prepare for the upcoming ban, Shrewsbury may look at measures that have increased the successful adoption of similar measures, including providing reusable shopping bags and grocery tote bags to help promote acceptance by residents and retailers.
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