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Plastic Bag Bans Set to Go in Effect

December 30, 2018
Plastic bag bans go into effect on Jan. 1 in Lowell and Westford. Market Basket is selling 10-cent reusable bags.

LOWELL -- Paper or reusable?

That’s the question you’ll be asked in Lowell supermarkets later this week when the plastic bag ban goes into effect.

On Jan. 1, the Mill City will join a rising number of Massachusetts communities banning single-use plastic bags, including Boston most notably in mid-December. Westford’s ban also goes into effect on Jan. 1.

The Lowell City Council voted in May to approve the ordinance. The city ban is limited to retail establishments 3,000 square feet or larger.

The Market Basket at the corner of Fletcher and Broadway streets now has signs in the checkout line for 10-cent reusable “tough-durable-recyclable” bags with handles.

Paper bags will also cost 10 cents per bag at Market Basket.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Mayor Bill Samaras said. “It’s for the environment. The environment just can’t take plastic.”

The ban will curb litter on the streets, protect marine environment, waterways and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and solid waste, according to the city’s ordinance.

Other thin-film bags will still be allowed in Lowell; these include bags used to contain dry cleaning, newspapers, produce, meat, bulk foods, wet items, perishables and other similar merchandise, typically without handles.

More than 70 cities and towns in Massachusetts are doing away with single-use plastic bags in retail stores, encouraging the use of reusable bags.

City Councilor Karen Cirillo, who chairs the Environmental & Flood Issues Subcommittee, first proposed this idea for Lowell last January. City Councilor Edward Kennedy, also on the subcommittee, said the ban will be positive for the city.

“We’re getting to a tipping point where most of the population in Massachusetts lives in communities that have banned plastic bags,” Kennedy said.

In addition to the 10-cent reusable bags, Market Basket sells more durable ones for 99 cents, $1.99 and $2.99. The $2.99 bags are for refrigeration.

“People in Lowell already use reusable bags without the ban,” Kennedy said. “It’s environmentally friendly.”

The city has faced high costs for the amount of plastic bags contaminating the recycling system. This ban should help reduce those fines, Kennedy said.

Any retail or grocery store 3,000 square feet or greater distributing single-use plastic bags will be penalized. The first offense will be a warning, followed by a $100 fine on a second offense, $200 fine on a third offense, and $300 fine on a fourth or subsequent offense.

Non-payment of fines could result in the suspension, revocation or denial other city-issued licenses or permits. The city manager or their designee will be responsible for enforcing the ordinance. Any enforcing person will be able to enter any establishment during regular business hours, without a search or inspection warrant, to see if they’re following the ordinance.

Westford’s plastic-bag bylaw, passed by a large majority at Town Meeting in March, will also go into effect on Jan. 1.

Stores will be required to offer recyclable paper bags or reusable bags instead, although certain kinds of disposable bags, such as those for produce and newspaper, will be allowed.

“It’s a good thing for the environment,” said Westford Selectman Scott Hazelton.

“People should be prepared to bring a reusable bag,” he added.

Punishments for continuing to use plastic checkout bags after the bylaw begins range from a warning on first offense to a $100 fine on third offense.

Tewksbury, Wilmington and Tyngsboro have all passed plastic-bag bans as well. Tewksbury’s ban will go into effect in April, Wilmington’s in May, and Tyngsboro’s start date is to be determined.

The Lowell City Council voted 6-0-3 for the ban in May. City Councilor Rodney Elliott was one of the three who voted “present.”

He has said that any legislation should be handled at the state level, and has pointed to a House bill that would prohibit plastic bags in retail establishments 3,000 square feet or greater.

The council has backed his motion to approve a resolution endorsing the Statehouse bill to ban plastic bags.

Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.

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