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Come March, No Plastic Bags In Great Barrington

Mollie VanSant

Come March, stores in Great Barrington, Massachusetts will not be allowed to use the plastic bags retailers have been dishing out for years.

The bylawwas approved at a town meeting in May 2013 and will go into effect March 1. At that point, no one should leave a retail location with goods loaded into a thin-filmed, single-use plastic bag. One of the larger retailers in the region is Price Chopper. Mona Golub is the supermarket’s spokesperson.

“Price Chopper applauds not only the noble intent of this new legislation, but the town’s recognition that in order to affect such behavioral change community-wide there must be collaborative engagement between government, retailers and consumers,” Golub said. “Price Chopper certainly is prepared to play its role in helping the progressive town of Great Barrington transition itself forward.”

After the start of March any store caught providing plastic bags will be fined $50 for a first offense, but the charges quickly rise to $200 a day, according to town health director Mark Pruhenski.

“We have found with situations like this that the customers are the best police enforcement we have,” Pruhenski said. “They’re quick to call us when somebody is out of compliance.”

Some stores in town had already taken steps to limit the amount of plastic they distribute. Berkshire Co-op Market hasn’t handed out plastic bags in years, and in the meantime has been charging 10 cents per paper bag. That money then gets donated to charities. Store communications manager Matt Novik says the switch has saved the company money by reusing boxes produce is delivered in and eliminating the expense of buying plastic bags.

“You can see the adjustment by the consumer in the amount of money we have been able to donate,” Novik explained. “It was hundreds of dollars a quarter when we started this program. It’s down to about $150 a quarter now. That’s because people are using boxes and their own bags and not buying or using disposable bags.”

The town-wide ban may pose an initial cost for retailers. Golub says plastic bags are cheaper for stores to buy than the heavy-duty reusable bags. She adds Price Chopper will need to adjust its bag carousels to accommodate varying sizes of reusable containers customers will bring. The company is offering a discount on its own reusable bags at its Great Barrington location. Golub says the company embraces opportunities to be environmentally friendly and has been providing the reusable bags companywide since Earth Day 2007.

“Listening to our consumers, we hear that many people like thin-filmed, single-use bags because they can reuse them whether in the wastebaskets of their home or for simple use in carrying things around or cleaning up around their homes,” Golub said. “But, that behavior can change.”

The town has worked with retailers and canvassed stores door-to-door, placing stickers, posters and banners on storefronts and town hubs announcing the ban’s arrival. The signs display a logo with the words “Bring Your Own Bag,” which Pruhenski says was designed specifically for Great Barrington by local high school students.

“The idea behind it really is to encourage people not to simply replace plastic with paper, but to bring their own cloth, reusable long life bags,” Pruhenski said.

Great Barrington is the fourth town in Massachusetts to institute such a ban, but the first in Berkshire County. In neighboring New York, Albany County banned Styrofoam containers in December, and in the fall, the groupSustainable Saratoga launched a campaign called Bring Your Own Bag Saratoga. Towns and villages in Westchester County have also banned the bags. Novik says it’s initiatives like this that catch on.

“I think every time a town does something like this it can prove it possible,” Novik said. “We really do believe not only is it possible, but it’s an economically smart thing to do. So the more proof, the more action might come of it.”

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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