Guest Op-Ed: Winthrop’s Ban on Single-Use Plastic Checkout Bags

By Bill Schmidt

On April 2, 2020, the Winthrop Board of Health approved a Regulation for Reduction in Single-Use Plastic Checkout Bags in order to reduce litter, protect our ocean environment from pollution, reduce greenhouse gases, and reduce costly solid waste in the Town’s waste stream.

The regulation went into effect as of November 1, 2020, but since several retail establishments applied for a hardship waiver of six months, the Board encouraged a delay in enforcement actions, coupled with education efforts, until May 2021.

Now that the Town’s Inspectional Services Department is doing its semi-annual restaurant and store inspections, necessary enforcement warnings and fines for violations will be issued.

The top three things to keep in mind regarding the Plastic Bags Regulation: (1) stores can only give reusable bags, recyclable bags, or compostable checkout bags to customers; (2) stores can no longer carry single-use plastic bags with handles; and (3) stores have to sell any bag with handles for at least 5 cents per bag, and the store keeps the charge. This includes restaurants.

The regulation only applies to “checkout bags” – carryout bags with handles.  This does not include newspaper bags, laundry/dry-cleaner bags, bags used to wrap produce, frozen food, meat or fish, or trash can liners.

The cost of bags should be posted/advertised at the checkout location and on the store receipt.  Of course, customers are encouraged to bring their own bags to avoid the cost. Setting up a way to remember to bring one’s own bags is a good idea.

Retailers and customers in Winthrop working together can make a real difference in the quality of life in our community.  We will have a cleaner, more beautiful town, and we will save money and our environment at the same time.

Bill Schmidt is the Chair of the Winthrop Board of Health.

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