It took environmental activists years to get a plastic bag ban on the books in the largest city in western Massachusetts.
Now, it has been temporarily derailed by the pandemic.
Officials in Springfield announced this week that they are delaying enforcement of a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags until January 1, 2021.
The ordinance was originally to go into effect at large retailers on June 1st and at stores that are smaller than 10,000 square feet on Dec. 1st.
Last March, out of concern over the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Charlie Baker suspended local plastic bag laws. The state health department prohibited people from bringing reusable shopping bags to the grocery store. The temporary orders were lifted last month.
City Councilor Jesse Lederman, who sponsored the ordinance regulating plastic bags, said he consulted with his colleagues on the Council and then approached the city administration about delaying the implementation of the new rules.
"It really makes sense in our case to be able to give people the proper lead time to prepare for the change and really just ease the transition to a more sustainable practice," said Lederman.
In a statement, Mayor Domenic Sarno said it was “reasonable and sensible” to push back the start date of the plastic bag ban to avoid confusion. Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris agreed.
"I think it is important we made that decision and I certainly concur with the recommendation," said Caulton-Harris.
Until January 1st, retailers in Springfield can continue to use thin film plastic bags at the checkout. After January 1st only recyclable paper bags, compostable plastic bags, or reusable shopping bags are permitted.
After surveying 15 Massachusetts cities and towns that have plastic bag bans on the books, MassPIRG reported Friday that only two immediately reinstated their ordinances after Gov. Baker’s temporary order was rescinded on July 13th.
"It is very confusing for consumers," said Janet Domenitz, executive director of MassPIRG.
She said cities and towns have done a poor job publicizing the current status of their plastic bag ordinances or making it clear that reusable bags are again permitted in grocery stores.
"I know every city and town in Massachusetts is stressed right now with the challenges of the pandemic. But I do think the way people live their everyday lives, which includes going to the grocery store, it behooves us to know what we can and can't do," said Domenitz.
There are 139 municipalities in Massachusetts that have regulations about single-use plastic bags.
A plastic bag reduction ordinance was first introduced in the Springfield City Council in 2016, but it never made it out committee. The plastic bag ban that will take effect in January was passed unanimously by the Council in April 2019.