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By Robert Rosen
Hometown Weekly Staff
When Town Meeting goes into session on March 28, the Wellesley Natural Resources Commission will ask members to ban plastic checkout bags at retail establishments, citing environmental reasons.
The move follows a similar decision by the City of Newton last spring, when they banned plastic checkout bags. Stores in Newton now exclusively use paper bags, except when customers bring their own reusable bag to carry their merchandise.
If the bylaw passes, all retail stores in Wellesley would have to comply. How quickly they need to comply would depend on the size of the store, as smaller stores under 3,500 in square feet would have a year to comply, while larger stores would be required to comply within six months or by January 1, whichever is later.
The Board of Health would be responsible for enforcing the ban, which would yield a $50 fine for the first violation following the issuance of a written warning notice. After the $50 fine, a fine of $100 would apply for a second violation and each additional violations.
The argument by the NRC and other environmental groups and supporters of this bylaw is that plastic bags are not often recycled and often end up in parks and streams. This pollutes natural resources, endangers wildlife and clogs storm drains. Many marine animals have trouble seeing the plastic when it is in the water and can’t identify it and because of this they attempt to eat it, which can often kill the animals.
In Wellesley’s proposed bylaw, produce bags, newspaper bags, drycleaning bags and other plastic film products are exempt from the ban. While still considered an environmental hazard, these items can be recycled.
Neighboring Newton is one of 18 communities in Massachusetts to ban plastic bags, including Natick.
Opponents of plastic bag bans dislike them for a variety of reasons, mainly what they say is a convenience.
On recent, busy shopping day in Newton, shoppers carrying their items in paper bags stated that plastic bags tended to be easier to carry, could usually hold more weight in one bag and be made larger to hold larger items, could better protect items from weather conditions such as rain and snow and could also be re-used in a variety of other ways that one could not use paper bags for. In addition, a couple of Newton shoppers mentioned that they didn’t like being told what they can and can not do, stating that they believe they should have free choice as to what type of bag they use when they shop.
Whether shoppers in Wellesley will have a choice between paper and plastic will be up to the voters at Town Meeting, who will make their decision after having months to deliberate on which side of the issue to choose.
Robert Rosen is an Editor at Hometown Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @roberterosen.