Below is publication of Rinaldo Del Gallo’s column, “End blight of Styrofoam, single-use plastic bags” published by the Berkshire Eagle. It introduces Berkshire Green’s initiative to have towns in Berkshire County vote at their annual town meetings whether to ban Styrofoam food containers and single-use plastic bags.
In this reprint of the column, I have provided links to the ordinances when the city, town or county is mentioned. These links to statutes did not appear in the original Eagle article. I have also added endnotes with some additional information.
Rinaldo Del Gallo, III: End blight of Styrofoam, single-use bags
Published Friday, March 13, 2015
PITTSFIELD I head a small group formed by local citizens called Berkshire Green that has undertaken the limited purpose of having laws passed locally to ban Styrofoam (polystyrene) food and beverage containers and single-use plastic bags. Efforts are underway to have these banned in Pittsfield.
Articles should appear on the warrants of town meetings in Lenox, Lee and Dalton to ban Styrofoam and single-use plastic bags. Adams[i] and Stockbridge may come next. Berkshire Green has a website, “BerkshireGreen.wordpress.com” which includes information and the text of the proposed bylaws. Contact us there to volunteer or ask questions.
In Brookline, Amherst and Marblehead, a ban on Styrofoam was recently passed with overwhelming majorities at town meetings. Nantucket andSomerville have also banned it. Great Barrington banned Styrofoam back in 1990. Nationally, Seattle, Honolulu, San Francisco, Albany County (New York),[ii] Washington D.C., and New York City[iii] are among those that have banned Styrofoam.[iv]
Recently, Great Barrington also banned single-use plastic bags, as didManchester-by-the-sea and Marblehead.[v] Guido’s in Pittsfield has announced it will stop using single-use plastic bags for checkout.
On our website, you can view a CBS news clip on California’s recent entire statewide ban on single-use plastic bags. CBS News said: “Americans use about 100 billion every year. Each bag is used for an average of 20 minutes but can last up to 1,000 years in a landfill. Fifty million end up as litter last year.”[vi]
Both Styrofoam and single-use plastic bags fail to decay, both are poorly recycled, both are litter problems, and both are harmful to wildlife. Our proposed bylaw eliminates single-use plastic bags in retail sales. It requires the use of reusable bags and/or recyclable paper bags as checkout bags to customers of commercial retail establishments. If recyclable paper is used, there must be a 25 cent charge to encourage the use of reusable bags over paper.
Nonprofits and yard sales are exempt. When food groceries are sold, only reusable bags may be used and paper bags are not allowed, as consumers are already in the habit of using reusable bags for groceries. Plastic bags to carry produce from a vegetable, fruit, bulk food or meat department within a store to the point of sale will still be allowed. Stores could be closed if they refuse to comply and have 10 violations.
The Styrofoam bylaw is modeled after the Amherst bylaw. Food establishments would be prohibited from using disposable Styrofoam containers for prepared food and beverages. Food establishments would also be required to use either a biodegradable container or a recyclable container, neither of which can be made of Styrofoam. People using the town’s facilities would also be prohibited from dispensing prepared food and beverages to customers in Styrofoam containers, and also must use biodegradable or recyclable containers.
Single-use disposable utensils would not be included, nor would packaging for unprepared foods such as raw meat.[vii] This bylaw only applies to food and beverage containers of food prepared on the premises.
In both proposed bylaws, there is a one-year deferment for undue economic hardship. In both, the first violation would be a warning, the second $100, and the third $250.
The author is a local attorney.
[i] Since publication, we have secured enough signatures for Adams.
[ii] Suffolk County (New, York) has also banned Styrofoam.
[v] Macedonia and China have a complete ban on single-use plastic bags, as do numerous cities in India and Brazil. Mexico City has a complete ban on single-use plastic bags. In Africa, Uganda, Somalia, Rwanda, Botswana, Kenya and Ethiopia all have total bans on single-use plastic bag. Ireland, Wales, Scotland, France, Belgium, and Denmark tax single-use plastic bags or impose a fee. I failed to mention in my Berkshire Eagle column the Massachusetts towns of Newburyport and Provincetown which also regulate single-use plastic bags.
[vi] Kendra Doyle, the Vice President of Ralph’s, a major Californian supermarket chain, said in the CBS piece that in 85% of all transactions that go through the register at Ralph’s, people already have a reusable bag.
[vii] Unlike New York City, Styrofoam packaging material or other non-food uses of Styrofoam do not fall under this bylaw. This bylaw only applies to food and beverage containers of food prepared on the premises.
[viii] They are organizing through a Facebook group called “Greening Williamstown.” Brad Verter, who leads the effort in Williamstown, has compiled material to help people who want to pursue bans in communities. Educational resources, copies of legislation, and lists of vendors of ecologically responsible products are all online at his website, MassGreen.org.
- I thank Brad Verter for compiling the list of ordinances, which is available at MassGreen.org.
FURTHER NOTES: As of Monday, July 18, 2016 the citizens petitions for a warrant article to ban Styrofoam filed by Rinaldo Del Gallo in 2015 have been passed in Lee, Lenox and probably will pass next year in Adams. The citizens petitions for a warrant article to ban single-use plastic bags filed by Rinaldo Del Gallo in 2015 have been passed in Lee, Lenox and Adams. Rinaldo Del Gallo helped Brad Verter ban Styrofoam and single-use plastic bags in 2015.