by Melinda Bourdeau
The Recorder, December 18, 2019
GREENFIELD — One year after being approved by the City Council in an 8-4 vote, the plastic bag ban will start being enforced by the Health Department on Jan. 16, 2020.
Health Inspector Tim Newton explained the existing Health Department staff will ensure that all retailers who are subject to the new ordinance — which prohibits providing single-use carryout bags to customers — are in compliance.
“Our enforcement will include complaint-based tips if someone called saying that a business uses plastic bags after the ban is in effect, as well as observations throughout other tasks and duties of the department,” he said.
If a business is found in violation of the plastic bag ban, there will be a written warning first, allowing the business 14 days to comply, and subsequently a fine of $50 per day.
Businesses can also apply for a waiver of the ban because of “undue hardship,” which is for a variety of specific cases. A waiver would exempt retailers for up to an additional year, Newton said.
“If a business files a written request to make a case for an extension,” he said, “we would look at the stock of plastic bags and work together so they can run down their stock.”
Only retailers are subject to the ban, but there’s a specific definition of what counts as retail: “Any commercial enterprise, defined as the following, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, including but not limited to pharmacies, convenience stores, grocery stores, seasonal and temporary businesses, jewelry stores and household good stores.”
Exemptions include: recyclable paper bags or reusable bags; bags provided by a pharmacy for prescriptions; non-handled bags used to protect items from damage or contamination; bags containing unwrapped food items; non-handled bags that are placed over articles of clothing on a hanger; and paper bags with dimensions of less than 144 square inches on the largest side for purposes of transit, according to a press release from the Health Department.
Restaurants drawing 80 percent or more of their revenue from the sale of prepared foods, liquor stores, and bazaars operated by nonprofit organizations or religious institutions are exempt from the ban, the release states. Additionally, food pantries, soup kitchens and other governmental and not-for-profit agencies that distribute food or other products to the needy free of charge are exempt.
For the first year, from 2020 to 2021, retailers can offer a recyclable paper bag for free or any charge. By 2021, the ban will be fully operational, and retailers will need to charge a minimum of 5 cents per paper bag and be unable to use plastic, the release states.
The plastic bag ban went up for a town-wide vote in 2015, during a mayoral election. The non-binding referendum led to the eventual ban of plastic foam containers in town, but a related plastic bag ban lost by 2,021 to 2,242.
In 2015, Greenfield could have become one of the first communities in the state to vote for the ban. Since then, many towns and cities have supported a ban, including Boston.
The most recent version of the ordinance, proposed by Precinct 5 City Councilor Tim Dolan, was approved by the council on Jan. 16 of this year. It reversed a council rejection from late last year while also adding compromises like the 5 cent minimum fee on paper bags and a year lag in rolling out the ban.
A full copy of Greenfield’s ordinance is available at bit.ly/2LTP0mJ.