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January 17, 2014

Marblehead Board of Health backs ban on plastics

Proposal targets single-use bags, foam containers and cups

Store clerks in town may no longer have to ask, “Paper or plastic?”

The Board of Health last night voted to bring two Town Meeting articles forward that would effectively ban “thin-film, single-use checkout bags” and the use of plastic foam cups and takeout containers from restaurants. These are two issues the board has been talking about for years, according to Todd Belf-Becker, chairman of the board.

The proposed bans would not go into effect until sometime next year if approved at Town Meeting in May.

The two separate proposals are being brought forth by the board itself. The board had previously voted to have town counsel draft the two articles.

Belf-Becker said last night that the plastic foam issue has been talked about for at least five years, and the plastic bag issue has come up more recently. State Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, came to the board last year to speak about her proposed legislation to ban such plastic bags statewide.

She proposed a bill last spring that would make Massachusetts the first state to ban retail plastic bags, saying they’ve become an environmental menace, harming beaches, oceans and animal life.

“That wasn’t the first time we talked about it,” Belf-Becker said, “but it was the first time we thought about it seriously.”

Andrew Petty, director of public health, said Nantucket is the oldest town in the state to have a plastic bag ban, and Manchester-by-the-Sea is the newest town. Town Meeting approved a ban in April.

The board debated if the concerns surrounding plastic bags would even be considered a “public health” issue.

“I think there are public health ramifications,” said member Michelle Gottlieb. “I think they are complicated because it is talking about waste reduction and talking about limiting use of materials that are developed with the burning of fossil fuel that contributes to climate change, which has severe impacts on public health.”

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