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Plastic Bag Ban In Springfield Could Spread Statewide

A shopper with a single-use plastic bag

    Environmental activists are lobbying city councilors in Springfield to approve a ban on single-use plastic bags in retail stores in hopes it will lead to a statewide prohibition in Massachusetts.

  The Springfield City Council’s Health and Human Services Committee is reviewing a proposed ordinance that would ban retailers in the state’s third-largest city from using thin-film plastic bags at the point of sale.

Among those lobbying for the ordinance are the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, Arise for Social Justice and the Massachusetts Sierra Club.  Clint Richmond of the Sierra Club said if Springfield were to join the 35 other Massachusetts communities that have enacted plastic bag bans it could be the tipping point to banish the bags from every store in the state.

"Springfield would be the largest community on the East Coast to have a plastic bag ban," said Richmond.

The activists say the bags given out by retailers for customers to carry-out their purchases are harmful to the environment and public health.  They argue the non-biodegradable bags are clogging landfills and incinerators, are a major source of litter, a choking hazard to wildlife, and a suffocation risk for infants.

The Sierra Club estimates that 2 billion single-use plastic bags are distributed annually in Massachusetts, with 50 million in Springfield.

 City councilor Adam Gomez, who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee, said he supports the plastic bag ban in principle.

" We need to start turning into a more greener community and this is a step forward to holding Springfield residents and the business community accountable," said Gomez.

Gomez said he wants to have additional hearings in committee on the proposed ordinance before bringing it to the full city council. He said he’s concerned about how it would be enforced and the impact on the owners of bodegas and similar small stores.

" Before I would support this there would have to be notice and education before it is enforced to make sure everybody knows about this and is not taken by surprise," said Gomez.

The proposed ordinance calls for penalties against retailers who violate the bag ban starting out with a written warning, and escalating to a $300 fine for each violation.

Jesse Lederman, an environmental organizer with Arise for Social Justice, said the local activists support a phase-in period for the ordinance.

" We are absolutely committed to making sure that this is not a burden on small businesses in the city of Springfield," he said.

Lederman said retailers could profit by selling reusable bags to their customers.

The ordinance exempts plastic bags that are used to keep loose produce, meat, and wet items separated from other groceries.  Laundry or dry-cleaning bags are also not banned under the proposed ordinance.



Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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