Plastic Bag Ban

At Town Meeting (starting April 2) vote YES to Ban Plastic Checkout Bags

Endorsed by the Board of Selectmen, Wayland Conservation Commission, Surface Water Quality Committee, Wayland Energy Advisory Committee, Massachusetts Sierra Club, Transition Wayland  (if your organization wants to endorse, let us know)

In short: The Plastic Bag Reduction Bylaw will ban thin film single-use plastic checkout bags from stores and restaurants. Bag litter detracts from Wayland’s natural beauty, is harmful to wildlife. Plastic bags are difficult to dispose of. They cannot be part of single stream recycling, and moreover only 5 -10% are recycled today. They end up in the environment. The bylaw does not restrict other uses of plastic bags such as for newspapers, dry cleaning, and produce bags within a grocery store.

Further details (for a more visual experience, click here)

The Plastic Bag Reduction bylaw eliminates the use of thin-film single-use plastic checkout bags in Wayland. It encourages the use of re-useable shopping bags, and allows for paper bags with 40% recycled content as an alternative to single-use checkout bags. This bylaw only affects checkout bags. It preserves the use of plastic bags for dry cleaning, newspapers, produce, meat, bulk foods, wet items and other similar merchandise.

The effective date is 1/1/18 allowing time for Wayland businesses to adapt. The bylaw allows a merchant to apply for an extension if there is a hardship. Some Wayland businesses are already in compliance.

42 Massachusetts cities and towns have passed similar bans. Small towns and large municipalities such as Cambridge, Brookline, and Newton have bans. Nearby, Concord and Wellesley have implemented bans, and Framingham recently passed a ban that goes into effect 1/1/18, the same date as the Wayland bylaw.

Responsibility for this bylaw has been assigned to the Board of Public Works (DoPW) because the ban should reduce the effort by the DPW for litter control and reduce transfer station volume. The estimated cost of $1000 allows for direct costs such as mailings and postage.

“Why are we taking fossil fuels that need millions of years to create, turn them into an item that is used for a few minutes and can then damage the environment for a 1000 years?”

Wayland residents are estimated to use about 4 million plastic checkout bags each year. This is based on federal government statistics on the national distribution of plastic checkout bags (102 billion per year) and the population of the U.S. (318.9 million) and the population of Wayland (13,444).

There are many reasons for eliminating these checkout bags:

  • Bag litter detracts from Wayland’s natural beauty and community appeal
  • Bags pollute our roadsides, parks, conservation lands, wetlands and waterways
  • Bags can clog storm drains and get into the sewer system, requiring a cost to the town to correct
  • Bags are very harmful to wildlife, locally and far away:
    • Biodegradable bans are not a viable alternative. Animals become entangled long before biodegradable bags can break down and marine degradable bags are not available in the US.
    • On 12/4/16 the Boston Globe ran a story titled, “Why seabirds can’t stop eating plastic”. To animals, bags look like food.
    • Plastic bags need 500 to 1000 years to break up. They can cause harm for centuries. They never actually decompose, but just break into tiny microplastic particles which stay in the environment forever.
    • The environment impact is not limited to oceans and animals far away and out of sight. The wetlands in our community and the birds and wildlife that live there are directly impacted.
  • Bags cannot be part of single stream recycling. They clog the machinery adding to the recycling cost. The Framingham DPW reports that bags are “the #1 contaminant in [their] recycling stream”. Wellesley no longer accepts them.
  • Recycling plastic bags in a separate plastic bag stream is economically difficult because the recycled plastic has little or no market value.
  • Eliminating plastic bags in Wayland will reduce the bags brought to the transfer station reducing cost to the town while helping to prevent future cost increases.

Overwhelmingly cities and towns that have experience with a plastic checkout bag ban have had a positive experience. (The petitioner has interviewed officials in Concord, Marblehead, Newburyport, Northampton, Newton, Great Barrington and Brookline.) Overwhelmingly the implementation costs have been minimal, volunteers have often been active in the implementation, compliance has been excellent and there are no reports of economic hardships having resulted. Both national chain stores and local businesses have all complied with the ban in other towns.

Historical perspective may help residents see that life without plastic checkout bags is a return to “the good old days”. Plastic checkout bags did not come into wide spread use until the mid 1980’s. “By the end of 1985, 75 percent of supermarkets were offering plastic bags to their customers. Customers still preferred paper bags—plastic held just 25 percent of the market—but Mobil was working to change that” (How the Plastic Bag Became So Popular by Sarah Laskow, The Atlantic Magazine, Oct. 10, 2014).

One might argue that we should do a better job at improving the current 5-10% recycle rate.  Actually, this is not a good idea. If more bags came to the transfer station, inevitably more bags would improperly end up in the single stream recycling, causing bigger problems. As already noted, there is no economic incentive to recycle plastic bags.

One might argue that substituting paper bags is not a good environmental alternative because cutting down trees and making paper consumes resources, just as making plastic does. Reports to this effect were funded by the industry making plastic bags. Conservation organizations such as the Sierra Club do not support arguments along this line. Furthermore the proposed bylaw requires at least 40% recycled content when paper bags are used.

Because compliance has not been an issue in other towns and because some Wayland businesses are already in compliance, one might argue that a campaign aimed at voluntary compliance might be more appropriate than a bylaw. There are important reasons why a voluntary approach is not viable:

  • Experience shows that a national chain store that uses plastic bags will comply with a law but will not voluntarily alter the company’s standard practices or policy for their stores.
  • Small merchants want fairness, “a level playing field”. As one Wayland business owner stated, “I have no problem with a ban as long as it applies to everyone”.

Some people might be concerned that merchants might lose business without plastic bags. Volunteers have interviewed many Wayland businesses (so far) and have not heard any complaints, and the petitioner has no reports from or about the towns that have implemented a bag ban that their merchants have suffered consumer fall out.  Instead please note that stores such as BJs, Trader Joes and Whole Foods have not had plastic bags for years and their businesses are thriving. Volunteers have interviewed many Wayland businesses (so far) and have not heard any complaints.

Some people might be concerned that the paper bags are more expensive for merchants than plastic bags. If this is burden then a merchant can pass this cost on to the consumer, for example by charging for a paper bag, and/or the merchant can sell reusable bags. The latter is a win-win:

  • If more customers bring reusable bags, the number of paper bags the merchant needs to buy goes down, saving money. With increased adoption of re-useable bags, the decrease in volume of bags purchased may more than offset an increased cost per bag.
  • The sale of reusable bags provides an advertising opportunity.
  • With many towns and cities having implemented bans, including large cities such as Cambridge, Brookline and Newton, suppliers are already ramped up to offer alternatives to plastic bags.

The best alternative is the use of re-useable bags, thus keeping both plastic and paper bags out of our streets, parks, waterways, and recycling operation. For consumers a benefit is that they are strong – stronger than paper and single-use plastic bags.

A concern of some consumers is that plastic checkout bags are sometimes used as trash can liners and for dog poop bags.  There are good alternatives for both:

  • For dog poop bags, use bread bags, bagel bags, produce bags, or newspaper bags or order inexpensive biodegradable eco-friendly poop bags – 900 for $19.99 for example.
  • For garbage disposal in Wayland, the pay-to-throw orange bags are required. For recyclable trash can liners, use dog food bags, toilet paper bags, diaper bags, kitty litter bags etc. or paper bags.

Some consumers may be concerned that re-usable bags are not sanitary. In 30+ years since the advent of reusable bags there is no credible research or evidence linking reusable bags to outbreaks of e-coli or any other harmful bacteria. Furthermore, reusable bags are washable, and if there is a concern meat can be placed in a meat bag or produce bag for extra protection.

Some may be concerned that this ban might cost the town significant money to implement and enforce. The petitioner has interviewed towns that already have a ban in effect and found that the ban has not been – and need not be – a financial burden. The upfront effort to inform and educate businesses is modest, typically consisting of a mailing and fielding some phone calls. Furthermore,

  • The number of businesses affected in Wayland is much smaller than in many of the other towns with bans.
  • Other towns have often relied on volunteers to do much or most of the outreach. The Transition Wayland group stands ready to assist the town. Indeed Transition Wayland volunteers have already spoken face-to-face with most of the potentially affected businesses.

Compliance has not been a problem in other towns. The bylaw makes explicit that the Dept. of Public Works (acting through the DPW) does not need to perform inspections as part of enforcement. Instead, the DoPW can rely entirely on citizen based complaint monitoring, thus limiting staff time to responding to a credible complaint. This approach is common in other towns. For example, in Concord little or no time has been required by town staff in the year since the effective date.  The town has relied on complaint-based monitoring (no inspections) and there have been no warnings or fines.

Some might argue that the ban should be at the state level, not the town level. A state level ban may ultimately become law but momentum for a state-wide ban will not realistically occur without the continuing momentum of bans such as ours at the town and city level.

 

TEXT OF PLASTIC BAG REDUCTION BYLAW

Town Board Affected by Article: Board of Public Works

Estimate Cost $1000

ARTICLE: To determine whether the Town will vote to amend the Town Bylaws by adding a Bylaw for the elimination of single use plastic checkout bags, as follows:

  • Section 1. Purpose and Intent

The production and use of thin-film single-use plastic checkout bags have significant impacts on the environment, including, but not limited to: contributing to the potential death of aquatic and land animals through ingestion and entanglement; contributing to pollution of the natural environment; creating a burden to solid waste collection and recycling facilities; clogging storm drainage systems; and requiring the use of millions of barrels of crude oil nationally for their manufacture. The purpose of this bylaw is to protect the Town’s unique natural beauty and its water and natural resources by eliminating single-use plastic checkout bags that are distributed in the Town of Wayland and to promote the use of reusable bags.

  • Section 2. Definitions

2.1 Checkout bag means a carryout bag provided by a store to a customer at the point of sale. Checkout bags shall not include bags, whether plastic or not, in which loose produce or products are placed by the consumer to deliver such items to the point of sale or checkout area of the store.

2.2 Grocery Store means a retail establishment where more than fifty percent (50%) of the gross floor area is devoted to the sale of food products for home preparation and consumption, which typically also offers home care and personal care products.

2.3 Retail Store means any business facility that sells goods directly to the consumer whether for or not for profit, including, but not limited to, retail stores, restaurants, pharmacies, convenience and grocery stores, liquor stores, seasonal and temporary businesses.

2.4 Reusable checkout bag means a bag with handles that is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse and is either polyester, polypropylene, cotton or other durable material, or durable plastic that is at least 4.0 Mils in thickness.

2.5 Thin-film single-use plastic bags are those bags typically with handles, constructed of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), low density polyethylene (LDPE), linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), or polypropylene (other than woven and non-woven polypropylene fabric), if said film is less than 4.0 mils in thickness.

2.6 Recyclable paper bag means a paper bag that is 100 percent recyclable and contains at least 40% post-consumer recycled content, and displays the words “recyclable” and “made from 40% post-consumer recycled content” in a visible manner on the outside of the bag.

2.7 This bylaw shall be known as the Plastic Bag Reduction Bylaw.

  • Section 3. Use Regulations

3.1 Thin-film single-use plastic bags shall not be distributed, used, or sold for checkout or other purposes at any retail store or grocery store within the Town of Wayland.

3.2 If a retail store provides or sells checkout bags to customers, the bags must be one of the following (1) recyclable paper bags, or (2) reusable checkout bags.

3.3 Thin-film plastic bags used to contain dry cleaning, newspapers, produce, meat, bulk foods, wet items and other similar merchandise, typically without handles, are still permissible.

  • Section 4. Effective Date

This bylaw shall take effect six (6) months following approval of the bylaw by the Attorney General or January 1, 2018, whichever is later. Upon application of the owner or the owner’s representative, the Board of Public Works may exempt a retail store from the requirements of this section for a period of up to six (6) months upon a finding by the Board of Public Works that (1) the requirements of this section would cause undue hardship; or (2) a retail store requires additional time in order to draw down an existing inventory of checkout bags.

  • Section 5. Enforcement

5.1 Enforcement of this bylaw shall be the responsibility of the Board of Public Works. The Board of Public Works shall determine the monitoring process to be followed, which may be limited to responding to citizen reports, incorporating the process into other town duties as appropriate.

5.2 Any retail or grocery store distributing plastic checkout bags in violation of this bylaw shall be subject to a non-criminal disposition fine as specified in Section 2-2 of the bylaws, Noncriminal disposition of violations; enforcement. Any such fines shall be paid to the Town of Wayland.

5.3 Section 2-2 is amended to add a new section as follows:

Violation of the Plastic Bag Reduction Bylaw

(1) Penalty: 1st offense – Warning;

2nd offense – $50 per day; 3rd and each subsequent offense – $100 per day.

(2) Enforcing persons: Board of Public Works

  • Section 6. Severability

If any provision of this bylaw is declared invalid or unenforceable the other provisions shall not be affected thereby.