A grassroots movement is underway is the town of Northampton, Massachusetts. The objective is to put an end to Styrofoam take out containers and disposable plastic bags. GREEN Northampton, a nonprofit, community driven organization is leading this charge. According to their web site this group’s mission is to foster Northampton's community bonds and promote environmentally sustainable, low-energy and healthy lifestyles in response to climate change and resource depletion. GREEN Northampton has many big and impressive goals and ultimately they want to make the world a better place, starting with their city.
By eliminating the use of disposable plastic bags there will be less garbage in the trash stream that heads to the local landfill. Without these non-biodegradable nuisances in the way the landfill will be able to naturally breakdown instead of just growing into a bigger and bigger behemoth. Another of GREEN Northampton’s goals is to eliminate the amount of recyclable and organic material that is sent off to the landfill to further streamline the trash stream.
Uncertainty Leads to Mixed Feelings
Gary Goulec, owner of Serio’s Market, is all for protecting the environment and he did away with plastic bags in his store several years ago. Now that he does not offer disposable plastic bags paper bag use has gone up amongst his customers. Paper bags cost him significantly more and this expense adds up. Goulec is concerned that the ban would go after more than single use plastic shopping bags and do away with packaging, like the plastic bags grapes and carrots are shipped in. This drastic change could potentially drive costs up and make it difficult for Goulec to run his business. The ban is still a far way off and is in the early planning stages so it is unknown whether the ban will look to draw the line at disposable shopping bags or if it will include additional types of plastic bags. It is unlikely plastic packaging would be banned because that could cause contamination issues that could in turn lead to health concerns. Other cities with bans usually make exceptions for the film bags used for produce, meat, or bulk items because unfortunately there is nothing else available that can do a better job for those specific tasks.
Doing right by the environment is definitely a good call, but consideration needs to be taken to make sure stores are not negatively impacted financially because of the ban. A small locally owned store, such as Serio’s Market, is an asset to a community and the intention of any plastic ban would not be to hinder the local economy. Factory Direct Promos reusable shopping bags offer a solution. By encouraging shoppers to stock up on reusable bags and tote their groceries home in a bag that can be used again and again, the store could potentially limit the amount of paper bags that are used. Even offering customers who bring reusable bags a small discount could do the trick to get them onboard with reusable bags. Many cities and towns with plastic bag bans charge 5 cents to use paper bags – that is cheaper than what a single paper bag costs, so it seems counterintuitive, but giving the discount could save more money than buying paper bags. Ultimately, this is the purpose of the paper bag fee. It is not intended to make anyone rich or anyone poor, it is just enough to make people think about how they spend their money.
The proposed ban is still in its infancy and the city’s waste management supervisor, Karen Bouquillon, has gone on the record stating that this ban will probably not be a serious consideration until September. Early fall is also when the Department of Public Works is set to appoint a new zero waste committee. There are a lot of unknowns with the ban in terms of the specifics and the timing and in the meantime GREEN Northampton is drumming up support from the community so when September rolls around they will be ready to go. What is also promising is the Bouquillon confirmed that her office is researching the models of zero waste committees in cities that have bans, such as Seattle and San Francisco. Following the example of cities with successful bans will position Northampton to succeed in their own ban.
Updated: Go to http://northamptonma.gov/1610/Single-Use-Plastic-Bag-Ban to learn more about GREEN Northampton's bag ban.