EASTHAMPTON — The city is banning the use of a number of nonreusable plastic items within its borders, including single-use plastic checkout bags, in what supporters say is a comprehensive measure designed to help the environment.
“This was something that was really important to me,” said City Councilor Owen Zaret, who introduced the legislation.
The ban, passed unanimously by the City Council on Oct. 14, is set to go into effect in one year. In addition to noncompostable, thin-film single-use plastic checkout bags at retail and food establishments, it eliminates single-use takeout containers made of polystyrene and expanded polystyrene (commonly known as Styrofoam) and requires produce bags and takeout utensils to be compostable. Stores will be required to charge consumers at least 10 cents per checkout bag at retail or retail food establishments greater than 5,000 square feet once the legislation takes effect.
“No one’s really done an all-in-one type of thing,” Zaret said. “We took this all on as one chunk.”
Plastic straws will continue to be available at food establishments in the city, but will be by request only and establishments are urged to have compostable alternatives. Zaret said this exception is being made because some individuals rely on straws to consume food, and he described suitable alternatives to plastic straws as “emerging technologies.”
Zaret credited City Councilor Salem Derby and former City Councilor Tamara Smith with introducing the topic of a plastic bag ban a few years ago, and those discussions were key in the council’s decision earlier this month.
The Massachusetts Sierra Club backed the legislation, and Clint Richmond, who serves on the club’s executive committee, said that the ban is notable for combining multiple types of plastic regulation.
“We’re not seeing any action at the state or federal level on these issues,” Richmond said on why local legislation on the issue is important.
Businesses can request deferments to keep using certain items if there are no suitable nonplastic alternatives or if it would cause significant economic difficulty. Flexible or transparent food coverings used with meat or fish are already exempted under the bylaw.
Zaret said many businesses are already using nonplastic alternatives and that the business community was generally receptive to the ban.
Businesses that violate the ordinance will first receive a warning. Subsequent violations within a year of the warning will result in fines of $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second offense, and $300 for the third and subsequent offenses.