Springfield City Council Approves Plastic Bag Ban
The largest city in western Massachusetts is poised to join a growing list of municipalities banning single-use plastic shopping bags.
The Springfield City Council voted unanimously Monday night to pass an ordinance that will forbid stores from distributing non-compostable single-use plastic bags at the point of sale.
If signed by Mayor Domenic Sarno, the ban would take effect on June 1, 2020 at most retailers and on December 1, 2020 at stores that are smaller than 10,000 square feet.
The ordinance was the subject of numerous committee meetings dating back to last fall and a public hearing earlier this month. City Councilor Jesse Lederman, the principle sponsor, said everyone’s concerns were taken into account.
"I think we have tried to avoid any unintended consequences and it will be a good step in the right direction in terms of sustainability for the city of Springfield," said Lederman.
Before final passage, the council voted to amend the ordinance to eliminate a provision that would have required stores to charge customers at least five cents for a paper or compostable plastic shopping bag as an incentive for people to bring their own reusable bags.
Critics contend the thin film plastic bags clog landfills and are a major contributor to litter. A Sierra Club study a few years back estimated 80 million plastic shopping bags were annually distributed in Springfield.
Two Springfield-based retailers, Big Y Foods, and Pride Stores have announced plans to stop using plastic shopping bags.
"What you are seeing is a market response to the fact that so much information is now available on what this product's impact is to environmental systems, waste and recycling systems," said Lederman. "So, we are moving in a good direction."
Verne McArthur, a member of the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition, applauded the council’s vote.
" I support it because it is the first step of many to deal with plastic waste, said McArthur. " I am excited I heard no negative votes. It has been a long process, but it seems to have been worked out to get unanimous approval. Bravo!"
A plastic bag reduction ordinance was first introduced in the Springfield City Council in 2016, but never made it out of committee. Noting that more than 95 Massachusetts communities have now enacted plastic bag regulations, City Councilor Melvin Edwards lamented that it took Springfield so long.
"At this point, I think we are on the back side of being a leader on this issue," said Edwards.
Prior to the council’s vote, Mayor Sarno, in a statement, said he would review the ordinance to determine if it is “fair, realistic, and cost effective.”
Also on Monday, the City Council postponed an initial vote on an ordinance sought by the mayor to strengthen the city’s Community Police Hearing Board by giving it subpoena power. At the urging of Councilor Orlando Ramos, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, the council voted 9-3 to send the proposal back to committee.
" We had a pretty lengthy conversation with the Law Department, but I don't think we are ready to take action on this ordinance as of yet," said Ramos.
A consultant hired by the city to look at the troubled police department’s policies and procedures for internal investigations recommended changes to the civilian review board.