Editorial: Will Orange join the plastic bag ban revolution?


Published: 3/26/2018 5:35:38 PM
Modified: 3/26/2018 5:35:42 PM

It will be interesting to see which way Orange swings on the question of banning thin plastic bags in town: against the idea as did Greenfield voters about two years ago, or for the ban as did neighboring Athol last year.

A petition article that will appear on the Orange June 18 annual town meeting warrant will give voters the power to ban certain plastic bags in town.

Signed by 12 registered voters, the petition seeks a bylaw to reduce thin-film, single-use, plastic check-out bags at all retail and grocery stores in town. These bags typically have plastic handles and are intended for single-use transport of purchased products.

Orange seeks to ban bags of a thickness of 2.5 mils or less from all retail and grocery stores in town, including pharmacies, liquor stores, mini marts and retail vendors selling clothing, food and household or personal items. The petition article exempts thin film plastic bags used to package dry cleaning, newspapers, produce, meat, bulk foods, wet items and other similar merchandise, typically without handles.

The petition argues that the production and use of thin-film single-use plastic checkout bags have significant impacts on the environment, including contributing to the death of aquatic animals and other wildlife through ingestion and entanglement; contributing to pollution of the terrestrial environment; creating a burden to trash collection and recycling facilities; clogging storm drainage systems; and requiring the use of millions of barrels of crude oil nationally for their production.

This is language similar to that used in the other 50 or so communities in the state that have enacted similar bans in recent years.

When a similar proposal was raised in a Greenfield referendum about two years ago, voters decided they didn’t want the town to give up the convenient plastic bags or single-serve plastic bottles, but did vote 2,499-1,752 to ban plastic foam containers.

Consequently, the Greenfield City Council banned all single-use expandable polystyrene foam packaging — including cups, bowls, plates, takeout containers and trays — for prepared, ready-to-eat food.

Last year, Athol — a town that in some ways is seen as more conservative than Greenfield — proved itself to be the greener, voting 116-12 for a bag ban.

The bylaw prohibits retail or grocery stores in Athol from distributing, using or selling thin-film, single-use plastic bags except when they contain dry cleaning, newspaper, produce, meat, bulk foods, wet items and “other similar merchandise.” The bylaw, which resembles those approved by other communities from Lee to Cambridge, also encourages customers to bring reusable or biodegradable bags to stores, as well as encourages merchants to make reusable bags available for sale to customers at a reasonable price.

It seems both Athol and Greenfield residents were willing and able to take a first step away from plastic packaging, and toward a greener lifestyle, but chose different starting points. In both cases, those opposed worried about the effect on struggling businesses, but in the end those reservations weren’t strong enough to hold back the change to a greener way of life. And we have yet to see a business fail, claiming it was a plastics ban that pushed it over the edge.

But in each case, the decision emerged from about as democratic a process as you can get, a voter referendum that followed weeks of public debate and discussion among consumers and merchants, town officials and town voters.

So, we will be interested to see which Orange’s voters go, satisfied that whatever the outcome, it too, will represent the will of the majority.

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