SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 29, 2014

Marblehead plastic, foam ban could be a mixed bag, businesses say

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff Writer

---- — MARBLEHEAD — Like many other restaurants, Tony’s Pizza on School Street uses plastic foam containers for its takeout.

Owner Patricia Brogna has priced out other options for takeout containers but said they are much more expensive. Now she finds herself questioning the proposed bans in town on thin-film plastic bags and foam cups and takeout containers, saying they will drive up costs — and she’s not alone.

“It is just going to be another burden on small businesses,” Brogna said. “... That cost will have to be passed along to the customers.”

The Board of Health voted last week to bring the two bans to Town Meeting in May. The board cited waste reduction efforts and impacts on the environment as a reason for proposing the bans.

The two separate proposals would not go into effect until sometime next year if approved at Town Meeting in May.

Plastic bag bans have been enacted in several Massachusetts towns and cities, including Manchester-by-the-Sea and Nantucket. Plastic foam has been banned in Amherst and Somerville. Both are banned in Brookline and Great Barrington.

The proposed Marblehead ban states that the plastic bags typically found in grocery and convenience stores, often referred to as single-use bags, can harm oceans and marine life, clog storm drains, and create a burden for solid waste and recycling centers. The ban would include any bag less than 3.0 mils thick, which is the approximate thickness of a heavy-duty contractor trash bag. Besides grocery checkout bags, some gift store bags would be banned, according to Andrew Petty, director of public health.

“The real sturdy gift bags that people can reuse will not be banned,” he said. The bags must meet the standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials.

Plastic foam containers are not biodegradable, and “once buried in a landfill, they will remain for centuries,” according to the draft bylaw. While such foam can be recycled, most companies won’t take it, Petty said.

The management of Crosby’s Marketplace on Washington Street is speaking out against the bid, saying the company has made efforts to reduce both paper and plastic bags. The company also has a store in Manchester, where a similar ban went into effect Jan. 1.

Such a ban only increases the use of paper bags, which also impact the environment, considering the loss of trees and the amount of water used to produce them, said Bob Vello, general manager of the chain. Paper bags are more expensive at 10 cents each, he said. Plastic ones are 3 cents.

“We prefer educating our customers, and we promote reusable bags,” he said. “If everyone did that, there would very few paper or plastic bags.”

Crosby’s donates 5 cents to a charity every time customers bring their own reusable bags, Vello said.

At the Manchester Crosby’s, the company decided to provide only paper bags without handles to bring the cost down, Vello said.

“We do have a number of customers that are surprised we don’t have plastic bags,” he said. “We do have some customers who prefer plastic, but we can’t have them.”

Manchester Selectman Paul Barclay said there haven’t been any problems since the ban went into effect earlier this month. However, the board did extend the ban’s effective date to January — it had been scheduled to take effect last July — because several small business owners were unaware the ban would apply them, he said.

“It has been seamless,” he said. “I haven’t received a single complaint, and here we are in the third week of January.”

He said he often shops at Crosby’s, which was the largest retailer affected in town.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Crosby’s is selling more reusable bags,” Barclay said. “Maybe it is good for everybody.”

In Marblehead, Kristen Pollard, owner of Mud Puddle Toys, said she orders her plastic bags from China once a year. She doesn’t know whether the bags she offers would be banned but said she is open to the idea of a ban.

“I don’t think it is a bad thing,” she said. “It is nice to have a bag with your logo because people walk around, and it is an advertisement. But there are positives and negatives to everything.”

Julie Vinette, owner of Haley’s Wines and Market on Washington Street, however, said she opposes the ban, even though her store doesn’t have either plastic bags or plastic foam.

“I don’t think it is fair for businesses to be legislated in what type of packaging they use,” she said, noting it’s a difficult time for many businesses in town.

---

Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at jphelps@salemnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.