BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
---- — NEWBURYPORT — City councilors are expected to take up a measure at their Monday meeting calling for a ban on thin plastic bags traditionally used on checkout lines of merchants.
The initiative is being driven by a local group called Citizens for Sustainable Bagging. Councilor Barry Connell is scheduled to introduce the measure, and he has indicated it has the support of a half-dozen other councilors.
“These thin bags can be a problem for the environment,” said Connell, an at-large councilor. “In a coastal community like ours, they can be trouble if they are in the river or the ocean” and can affect power boats and sewage-treatment plants.
“We’d like to develop alternatives, and some currently exist like reusable bags.”
Connell said that the measure could call for penalties for the use of plastic, but indicated that city officials have been talking with merchants in an effort to avoid financial hardship.
Connell said that other councilors who support the measure include Ed Cameron, Bob Cronin, Jared Eigerman, Ari Herzog, Charles Tontar and Bruce Vogel.
Others might join in support but he said he didn’t want to speak for those who have not yet finalized their positions.
In a Facebook posting, Walt Thompson, who heads the Bartlet Mall Commission, has noted that plastic bags sometimes end up in the Frog Pond, a vulnerable body of water that city officials are trying to clean.
Leading the anti-plastic initiative is Janine Brunell Looker, a Newburyport resident who says that limiting plastic “checkout bags” can be one way that communities can work for cleaner waters and grounds.
“Those who want to improve the environment can’t change everything but this seems like a project that will help,” Looker said. “We don’t want to hurt stores, and have talked with merchants about cooperating.”
She said any plan that passes would include a phase-in period for merchant compliance.
Looker said she has been working with students from Newburyport High School, the River Valley Charter School and the Gulf of Maine Institute in developing the initiative.
Ann Ormond, president of the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that the chamber is familiar with the proposal and is developing a position.
“Our retail committee is looking at it, and may make a recommendation in later March or April,” Ormond said. “We don’t want this to be a hardship for any stores.”
“Many are now using reusable or paper bags,” she added.
Ormond said the Chamber might consider supporting a plan that would give out reusable bags that would carry printed slogans such as “Shop Locally.”
Looker and other supporters say that plastic bags have been banned in Massachusetts communities including Brookline, Great Barrington and Manchester-by-the-Sea.