, Salem, MA

February 16, 2013

Paper or plastic: Who should decide?

What Others Say The Gloucester, Daily Times
The Salem News

---- — Each time we visit a supermarket, convenience store or pharmacy, we generally face one of American life’s most basic decisions: “Paper or plastic?”

Now, some town residents and Manchester Essex Regional School District folks think that Manchester shoppers and business operators should no longer have that choice — that those retail plastic bags with the little handles should be banned from use throughout the town. But before the town’s selectmen place this proposal on the Town Meeting warrant to go to voters this April, they should also consider what impact this proposal will have for the town’s business community and customers.

There is no doubting the best intentions of those pushing for this proposal — which would only affect the types of retail bags described above, not plastic trash bags, not smaller market produce bags. And the measure now making its way toward Town Meeting in Manchester is not doing so in isolation; indeed, state Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, has filed similar legislation that would ban plastic bags throughout the state in retail establishments with space of 4,000 square feet or more with three locations under the same ownership, in retail pharmacies with at least five locations under the same ownership, or in supermarkets with gross sales over $1 million.

In Manchester, the push is coming from students who are part of the Manchester Essex Regional Green Team and from folks like town resident Gary Gilbert, who petitioned to get the article on the warrant and is set to discuss the issue with the selectmen at their meeting on Feb. 25.

Yet the proposal as currently written already includes a scale of fines — $50 for a store’s first offense, $100 on the second and $300 on a third or subsequent offense. Gilbert has also suggested that retailers utilize reusable bags, or anything biodegradable, most notably paper. And while that would clearly add an expense to local businesses, Gilbert is suggesting that retailers could sell more multiuse bags and could charge customers a nominal fee of 5 cents for paper bags in order to offset their costs.

Look, cleaning up the environment is everyone’s goal, whether through better education on issues such as this, or perhaps promoting deals for customers who do choose paper bags when they go to their favorite stores. But while officials and residents weigh their options, they may also want to think about another basic aspect of all this:

Do we really need town government — or any level of government — telling us we have no longer have a choice of even “paper or plastic?”