IPSWICH — It looks like a plastic-bag ban to cut down pollution has tempted some businesses to distribute new, thicker bags to get around the ban.
As a result, voters at town meeting on October 16 will be asked to update the plastic-bag bylaw.
But the Finance Cmmittee (FinCom) wasn’t sure the proposed change is necessary.
Although it is a nine-member board, FinCom members cast a tied vote 3-3-3 when three members abstained on the plastic-bags bylaw update (reproduced in blue below).
The town adopted a plastic-bag and styrofoam ban in 2016. However, some businesses got around the ban by giving out thicker plastic bags after the current bylaw defined “thin-film single use” bags as being less than three millimeters thick.
Noting that the goal was to reduce plastic use in town, the article’s proponent, high school senior Tessa Devoe, added, “Honestly, these thicker bags just increase it.”
The proposed update would ban all plastic bags. It would also remove a reference to biodegrable bags. Devoe said the second type of bags only decompose under very specific situations.
“It is not banning biodegrable bags,” said Devoe’s teacher, Lori LaFrance. The language “didn’t make a darn bit of difference” to the bylaw.
FinCom member Michael Schaaf asked what businesses thought of the updated ban. Devoe said most are complying, but two chain outlets are handing out four-millimeter bags.
“I don’t want to call any stores out right now,” she said. However, CVS and Family Dollar were mentioned by other speakers as still handing out thicker plastic bags.
Tammy Jones said those businesses were “pushing on the spirit of the law.”
Devoe said she would have more feedback from businesses in time for town meeting.
FinCom member Chris Doucette said he would like to know why the businesses opted to “find the loophole” by introducing thicker bags and wondered how much they were saving.
“Have them slap a dollar amount on it,” he suggested to Devoe.
Committee member Jamie Fay noted that the bylaw is only two years old and is already being amended. He asked what other communities have done.
Devoe said state legislators worked on a possible statewide ban last year, partly in reaction to the thicker bags being handed out in communities with bans.
She said the warrant article language was taken from the state proposal. That bill passed the senate earlier this year, but it was dropped when the house and senate negotiated a compromise environmental bill in July.
Calling Devoe’s proposal confusing because it also mentions stitching in bags, Fay said, “If you’re going to town meeting, you need to bring plastic bags with you.”
Jones also suggested Devoe remind people at town meeting what the body has already done with plastic bags.
“As difficult as it is to say this, I won’t be supporting this article,” chairwoman Janice Skelton said. She said she didn’t like proposal’s restrictiveness and wording, even though she tries to use reusable bags.
“This is too much — for us, as a town, to dictate to businesses,” she said.
Schaaf said he was in favor, but he wanted a report from businesses and suggested a vote be delayed.
“We’re concerned about the economy in this town and the tax base that contributes to your education,” he said.
Doucette agreed. While he said it may not cost much, he added, “It might lead to a reputational issue.”
“I’d like to see some homework done,” he said, and quipped, “I know she doesn’t like the H word.”
FinCom member Michael Dougherty asked how the new proposal would be “lock tight,” since big companies have “a team full of lawyers looking for loopholes.”
LaFrance replied that one-third of the state’s population lives in communities with plastic-bag bans bylaws.
The thicker bags didn’t really exist in 2016, she said. “I don’t understand how some of these businesses are giving us thicker bags when they are also doing business in other towns that don’t allow thicker bags,” she LaFrance said.
“They are very capable of dealing with it,” she added.
Asked when the new bylaw would go into effect, LaFrance said businesses would be given time to use up their existing stocks.
When it came time to vote, Fay repeated his recommendation that the business community be asked about the proposal. However, he indicated he was in favor.
However, Doucette said he would abstain because he didn’t have enough information to make a decision.
In its vote earlier this month, the select board unanimously agreed to recommend Devoe’s proposal to town meeting.
To see if the Town will amend Chapter 172 of the General By-laws of the Town of Ipswich as follows:
(Note: strikethrough indicates deletions; bold italics indicates additions.)
SECTION 1: PLASTIC BAG RESTRICTION
1. By amending § 172-2 (Definitions) as follows:
1. “Thin-film single-use bags” shall mean bags with integral handles and a thickness of 3.0 mils or fewer that are intended to transport products purchased in a retail establishment. “Plastic Checkout Bag”, shall mean any checkout bag made of plastic that does not meet the definition of “Reusable Checkout Bag”, typically with plastic handles, and intended for transport of purchased products.
2. “Biodegradable bag” shall mean a bag that:
a. Contains no polymers derived from fossil fuels; and
b. Is intended for single-use and will decompose in a natural setting at a rate comparable to other biodegradable materials such as paper, leaves, and food waste.
3. “Reusable bag” shall mean a sewn bag with stitched handles that is specifically designed for multiple uses and is made of thick plastic, cloth, fabric or other durable materials either polyester, polypropylene, cotton or other natural fiber material.
2. By amending § 172-3 (Use Regulations) as follows:
A. Thin-film single-use Plastic checkout bags shall not be distributed or sold from any retail establishment within the Town of Ipswich.
B. Customers are encouraged to take their own reusable or biodegradable shopping bags to stores. Retail establishments may provide reusable or biodegradable, thick-plastic, paper, fabric, or other types of bags at no charge, or impose a fee for paper or other bags, as they so desire. Retail establishments are strongly encouraged to make reusable bags available for sale to customers at a reasonable price.
C. Thin-plastic bags used to contain dry cleaning, newspapers, produce, meat, bulk foods, wet items or similar merchandise, typically without handles, are exempt from the provisions of this Section.
Summary: These proposed amendments to the 2016 bylaw will expand the definition of plastic bag, remove the definition of biodegradable bag, and redefine reusable bag so as to eliminate any confusion for businesses. This article has no fiscal impact.