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At Public Hearing, City Councilors Urged To Pass Plastic Shopping Bag Ban

    After hearing from residents Monday night, the City Council in Springfield, Massachusetts is poised to take a final vote on an ordinance to ban single-use plastic shopping bags.

    One-by-one people stepped up to the microphone in the cafeteria of the Rebecca Johnson Elementary school and voiced support for banning the plastic shopping bags that they said are littering their neighborhoods and harming the earth’s environment.

    About 25 people attended the hearing.  No one spoke to oppose banning the plastic shopping bags.

    In March, the City Council gave first-step approval to a plastic bag ordinance. But when it came up for final passage two weeks later, councilors, citing confusion and misunderstanding about the practical impacts of the ordinance, sent it back to committee for a public hearing.

     A final vote is now scheduled at the council’s regular meeting on April 22 – Earth Day.

     City Councilor Jesse Lederman, the lead sponsor of the ordinance, said enforcement would be directed at retailers.

     "What this does not ban is private owership of plastic bags," said Lederman. "Anybody is still welcome to own plastic bags in the city of Springfield, have them in their homes, use the ones they have."

     Debra Smith told councilors that during a recent 10 minute walk through her neighborhood she counted at least 50 of the small plastic bags littering the area.

     "It was deplorable and shocking," said Smith.

     Noting that 95 communities in Massachusetts have now enacted plastic bag ordinances, Elliott Stratton said Springfield is lagging behind.

    "We should be a leader," said Stratton.

     Katy Pyle, who said she moved to Springfield from a community that had restricted plastic shopping bags, urged councilors not to use inconvenience as the reason for voting down the bag ordinance.

     "It might be an inconvenience in the beginning, but it is an easy change to make," said Pyle.

    A few of the speakers held up cloth shopping bags they said they’ve used for years to avoid the store-issued plastic bags.

     Nine of the 13 city councilors were at the hearing. 

     Councilor Ken Shea, who in March had criticized the ban as “government overreach,” said he has now been persuaded to vote for it.

    "I thought you could recycle the bag, because you can recycle a lot of items. But in recent weeks in talking with some of the members of the public, I have been educated, " explained Shea, who said he had learned the bags "just don't go away."

     Under the proposed ordinance, stores would be required to charge at least 5 cents for a paper or compostable plastic shopping bag if a customer does not have their own bag. 

      The ordinance does not ban stores from using plastic bags to wrap meats, fish, produce, or other loose items.  Also it does not affect dry cleaning bags, newspaper delivery sleeves, and pharmacy bags.

       It would take effect 12 months from the day of final enactment at most retailers and 18 months at stores smaller than 10,000 square-feet.





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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