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Springfield Takes First Step Toward Restricting Plastic Shopping Bags

Springfield City Hall
Paul Tuthill

    The largest city in western Massachusetts is moving closer to banning retailers from putting customer purchases into single-use plastic bags.

    The Springfield City Council on a voice-vote Monday night gave initial approval to an ordinance that bans the distribution of single-use plastic bags at the point of sale. 

    Two more votes by the council and the signature of Mayor Domenic Sarno are needed to put it on the books.

    A plastic bag ban was first considered by City Councilors in Springfield in 2016, but a draft ordinance never made it out of committee.

   Working since last October with representatives of the city’s retailers and environmental groups, City Councilor Jesse Lederman wrote the current proposed ordinance.

"I started learning more about really what the impact of single-use plastic bags are on both the environment and litter across the city  and also on the process to make them," said Lederman "Its become clear to myself and folks across the Commonweath and the country that we have to take action on this."

   The Sierra Club estimates that 81 million plastic bags are given out annually by retailers in Springfield.  Studies have found the vast majority of the bags are not re-used and so instead wind up in landfills or as litter.

   Under the ordinance, customers who do not bring their own reusable shopping bag could purchase from a store, for 5 cents, a recyclable paper bag, or a compostable plastic bag.

  "This fee of 5 cents allows for businesses to recoup some of ( their costs) and it enourages people to bring their own ( shopping bag)," said Lederman.

   The ordinance would take effect 12 months after final enactment for large retailers and in 18 months at stores that measure less than 10,000 square-feet.

    As Springfield has moved in the direction of a plastic shopping bag ban, City Councilor Adam Gomez said there has been “pushback” from some bodega owners.

   "The 18 months will help them transition into being able  to comply," said Gomez.

    The city’s Department of Health and Human Services would be responsible for enforcing the ordinance.  Once it is on the books a letter explaining the regulations will go out to retailers throughout the city, according to Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris.

   "From an environmental perspective, this is very important," said Caulton-Harris about ordinance.

    Retailers found in violation will first receive a warning. Additional violations result in a $50 fine for the first offense and $100 for subsequent violations.

    More than 90 cities and towns in Massachusetts have enacted ordinances banning or restricting the distribution of plastic shopping bags.  An ordinance in the city of Boston took effect last December.

    A bill to enact a statewide ban passed the Senate, but died in the House at the end of the last legislative session.

    Springfield-based Big Y Foods announced in January plans to eliminate single-use plastic bags at the checkouts of all the stores in the supermarket chain next year.

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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