Changes Recommended to Plastic Shopping Bag Ban to Encourage Reusable Bags

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The ban of single use plastic bags has been in place in Watertown for just over a year, and those who pushed for the ban suggest some tweaks be made to the ordinance. 

Earlier this month, the Town Council heard a report about how the Bring Your Own Bag ordinance has gone in its first year. All stores have stopped giving the thin plastic bags to customers, but some continue to hand out plastic bags made of thicker material which are not biodegradable.

The bags meet the requirement that bags must be 4 mil thick, but do not “meet the spirit of the ordinance,” said Councilor Anthony Donato, who read the report from the Rules & Ordinances subcommittee.

“The community didn’t envision this outcome and the Council wants to see how we can strengthen our current ordinance,” Donato said.

The plastic bag ordinance was first presented to the Town Council by ReThink Plastic, a resident group seeking to eliminate single-use plastic bags and encourage people to use reusable shopping bags.

Members of ReThink Plastic presented recommended changes to the Rules & Ordinances Committee at the May 21 subcommittee meeting. The group contends that the thicker bags are adding more plastic waste to the system and that paper bags, while biodegradable, do not encourage people to bring their own bags. Also, more effort should be made to encourage people to bring reusable shopping bags.

The group had two suggested steps: impose a fee for people to get a bag a checkout, and require bags handed out at checkout to be made of either recyclable paper or biodegradable plastic.

The subcommittee met again on July 16, and Donato said that state law prevents towns from requiring stores to charge a fee for a bag, although stores can choose to charge a fee.

“It was noted that a “plastic bag ban” bill is moving forward in the Legislature but we don’t want to delay improving our ordinance in the meantime,” Donato said, reading from the committee report. “The Committee agreed that Watertown must leave it to the retailer whether or not they want to charge customers or offer a rebate, etc., for a checkout bag.”

Other recommended steps would be to speak with the retailers using the thick plastic bags about different options, and providing a copy of the ordinance so they can show it to customers if they complain.

Members of ReThink Plastic also said they could work with the Health Department and Code Enforcement to develop signage for retailers to publicize the Bring Your Own Bag ordinance and the importance of cleaning reusable checkout bags, Donato said.

The subcommittee recommended that the Town Council change the ordinance to eliminate language allowing plastic bags that are 4 mil thick, and to update the definition of a reusable bag to say:

“Reusable Checkout bag” shall mean a sewn bag with stitched handles that is specifically designed for multiple reuse and that (1) can carry 25 pounds over a distance of 300 feet; (2) is machine washable or is made of a material that can be cleaned or disinfected more than 125 times; and, (2) is either (a) made of natural fibers (such as cotton or linen); or (b) made of durable, non-toxic plastic other than polyethylene or polyvinyl chloride that is generally considered a food-grade material that is more than 5.0 mils thick.

The recommended changes will have a first reading at the Sept. 11 Town Council meeting, and a public hearing (and a likely vote) on Sept. 25.

6 thoughts on “Changes Recommended to Plastic Shopping Bag Ban to Encourage Reusable Bags

  1. Kudos to the Town Council and to Rethink Plastic for doing an evaluation after some initial experience and considering how to improve outcomes. Too often, I think, we get a plan or ordinance or zoning provision or other policy in place, and then never go back to see if it’s working as planned.

  2. I believe any bag that is brought in by the consumer should be listed as OK.
    By definition, any bag brought in is a bag that is being reused regardless of the thickness size or composition. I bring in several types within my cloth bag encase I need an extra.
    While you may have a preference on the type, any type brought in meets the intended purpose of the ordnance.

  3. Charlie – I hear you and am supportive.
    Just wanted to have a note stating that a consumer who brings in a bag, cloth or otherwise, is reusing a bag and as such is classified as an acceptable “reusable checkout bag” as they are in fact reusing whatever bag it is they have brought in.
    I wouldn’t want anyone to get the idea that they can only bring in certain bags to use.

    • For clarity any bag that is re-used, is also then a re-usable bag, which is acceptable to re-use where re-usable bags are encouraged. Real chicken or the egg situation

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