Framingham will join towns banning plastic bags

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BOSTON – Framingham will join Cambridge, Newton and more than a dozen other Bay State communities in banning plastic bags used by retailers to package goods including groceries starting in January 2018.

Acting on a citizen’s petition “to eliminate the usage of thin-film single-use bags by all retail and grocery stores,” Framingham Town Meeting members approved the move by a hefty majority Thursday, according to several reports. The initiative, modeled after others adopted in the state, is aimed at curbing pollution and litter, and easing the burden on recycling operations, according to the Town Meeting Warrant.

Other local towns that have adopted similar rules include Brookline, Concord, Falmouth and Marblehead, the warrant says, while towns such as Natick and Greenfield are considering the step. Bags affected are limited to thin-film, single-use sacks with handles such as those commonly used by grocers and big-box retailers such as Home Depot.

Technically, the ban applies to bags made of plastic 2.5 mils thick or less and are intended for use to carry purchases out of a store, the warrant item says. The measure exempts plastic bags used inside stores to contain loose items such as produce and recommends shoppers obtain reuseable bags.

The measure will be enforced by the town manager, and stores that fail to comply could be fined. Framingham is one of the state’s largest towns, with about 66,000 residents, and is a major retail center for the region. The community operates under a representative Town Meeting form of government.

Ken Weiss, a Framingham resident, proposed the article, and other citizens debated the merits of the ban versus the inconvenience and harm to businesses, according to a report in the MetroWest Daily News.

According to the Sierra Club of Massachusetts, which keeps track of such local ordinances, Nantucket was the first to enact a ban in 1990, when the island municipality passed an ordinance to bar the use of non-biodegradable “packaging added to or supplied by a vendor or commercial establishment.”

In 2012, Brookline became the first Massachusetts mainland town to pass a plastic-bag ban. Brookline stores caught distributing plastic bags are subject to a $50 fine and subsequent $100 fines for each incident thereafter. Also in 2012, Concord passed an ordinance banning the sale of single-serve water bottles made of plastic the first municipality in the nation to take such a step. Nine more cities and towns joined the list last year.

Massachusetts lawmakers considered a statewide ban in 2013 but it didn’t progress to a vote of the full Legislature. Earlier this month, the state Senate passed a measure (S 2171) that includes a plastic bag ban at farmers markets. It was adopted 36-1.

Framingham resident Michael Croci, who spoke about the Framingham proposal at the Annual Town Meeting, reported that 34 million non-biodegradable plastic bags are distributed in the town annually, with an average use time of 12 minutes, according to the Daily News. But no more than 10 percent are recycled, Croci said, and the others harm wildlife and the environment.

Not everyone thought the ban was worthwhile, like resident Mark McClennan, who said it was  “well-intentioned” but “misguided,” the Daily News said. McClennan said once the measure goes into effect, his wife and others will shop at grocery stores outside Framingham.

“This is going to hurt Framingham residents and Framingham taxpayers,” he said, according to the Daily News.

Still others wanted to find a compromise.

“I think we all support the sentiment,” resident Randall Cohen said, according to the News. “We want to save our environment, we want to reduce waste, we want to reduce pollution. But the simple fact is that there’s bigger contributors we could go after, but even that’s not going to change the behavior of those that choose not to conduct themselves in an environmentally sound manner.”

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis.