, Newburyport, MA

May 6, 2014

Council committees hold off on bag ban vote


---- — NEWBURYPORT — City councilors have decided to take no committee action on banning thin plastic bags until hearing results of a survey of members of the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The response of the Chamber is expected to be complete by the end of May, according to Ann Ormond, president of the 750-member organization.

Eight councilors met in committee last week on the initiative of Barry Connell, who is chairman of the Neighborhoods and City Services Committee, and Allison Heartquist, who is chairwoman of the Licenses and Permits Committee.

In Connell’s committee is a measure to ban thin plastic bags, which are used for transporting retail goods at stores ranging from Market Basket to Richdale. About two dozen restaurants also use such bags when diners leave with takeout items, or with leftover food.

But it appears the proposal will stay in committee for several more weeks as city leaders continue to study the matter.

Students from local schools, including the River Valley Charter School and the Nock Middle School, have joined with adults seeking a greener community to push for the banning of the bags.

Several residents speaking to councilors recently said that plastic bags can last close to 100 years in landfills or along roadsides, where they are considered to be offensive clutter.

And city officials, including recycling coordinator Molly Ettenborough, say that plastic bags can’t be recycled.

But councilors have received pushback from residents who aren’t sure banning the bags is the right move.

Some feel that substituting paper bags would be more expensive for retailers to purchase, and bulkier to transport and store.

“Banning bags could hurt business,” said Joe Devlin, a lawyer who said he works with private companies. “We have done no study to provide us with data and expertise.”

Several residents said that shoppers can make the choice to go to Amesbury or New Hampshire if costs increase as a result of substituting paper for plastic.

No cost studies were introduced to indicate how much more it would cost to use paper bags rather than plastic.

Speakers on both sides of the issue said that residents should be more conscious of the need to pick up trash, and to recycle proper household goods.

Ormond said that the Chamber is studying the issue and is polling its members regarding their view on the issue. She said that about 25 percent of its members are in the retail field.

In addition, committee members say they will meet next week to continue to discuss the merits of converting from plastic to paper.