Plastic Bag Ban Proposed

On Tuesday, September 17, the Chair of the Winthrop Board of Health Bill Schmidt appeared before Council to propose a regulation banning single-use plastic bags in the town of Winthrop. If passed, Winthrop would join the 122 cities and towns in Massachusetts that have already banned single-use bags, including neighboring Boston and Revere.

The ordinance would require all retailers currently giving out single-use plastic bags to cease doing so and to offer their customers “reusable, biodegradable, nontoxic alternatives” by spring of 2020. Retailers who don’t comply would be subject to ever-increasing fines.

Reasons that communities have cited for banning single-use plastic bags are their contribution to litter and solid waste mass, harm to wildlife, and the use of fossil fuels in their creation.

Councilor Richard Ferrino asked if paper bags were considered a viable alternative.

“Paper is not a solution in the long term because of the trees being cut down,” answered Schmidt. “You want to get people away from using paper or plastic. The goal is to have people bring [reusable] bags.”

Councilor Rob DeMarco questioned how the ban would impact the local business community.

Schmidt said he had given copies of the draft proposal to several local businesses, urging them to contribute their own suggestions. He also mentioned that if retailers required a window longer than six months to use up their current inventory, waivers and exemptions would be available.

“We are going to look for ways to work with groups,” he said.

The Transcript reached out to Marc Wallerce, the owner of Winthrop Marketplace, for his reaction.

“We wish that there was a way to ban plastic bags from all businesses, but we still have to consider it from a small business perspective,” he said. “The added fees and costs associated with this ban will cause an adjustment period for our customers and a reshaping of how we do business.” 

During the public comment portion of the meeting, two residents spoke out in favor of the ban.

Precinct 1 Resident Mary Ellen Sharpton was most concerned for how plastic bags–and plastics in general–were affecting local marine life. She held up 8×10 photographs of animals who had succumbed to their interactions with plastics in the wild: a sea turtle that had been strangled by the plastic rings from a six-pack, a bird that had suffocated inside a plastic bag, a whale that had died and washed ashore with massive amounts of plastics found inside its stomach, a seal that had been asphyxiated by plastic cords.

Sharpton asserted that many marine animals cannot distinguish between single-use plastic bags and the sea vegetation they are used to consuming. She urged Council to “take the issue seriously.”

Susan Hitchcock Ryan of Precinct 3 also expressed her support for the ban.

Ryan, who possesses a Master’s in Public Health, said that single-use plastics are a health issue. She connected the dots between single-use plastic bags and the rise in EEE, a mosquito-borne illness that has affected eight people in Massachusetts as of the time of this publication, as well as the surge in cases of tick-borne Lyme disease.

“Plastic bags contribute to rising greenhouse gas emissions during every stage of their life cycle,” she said. “This makes mosquito breeding more aggressive. Lyme disease carried by ticks has tripled in the U.S. since 2009 because ticks are surviving over our winters.”

Ryan urged Council to “join the other 122 communities that have banned single-use plastic bags.”

“It’s a first step in decreasing our plastic use, and choosing the planet and its inhabitants,” she said to a rousing applause.

The Board of Health will be hosting a public meeting on Thursday, September 26, at 6pm in the Newton Building where the community is invited to weigh in on the proposed ban.

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