PEABODY — It could be the middle of September before an ordinance to ban single-use plastic shopping bags comes before the Peabody City Council. But the Big Y on Lowell Street wasn't waiting for this or a proposed statewide bag ban to get rid of those flimsy plastic shopping bags at the checkout line.
In July, Big Y Foods Inc., an independently-owned supermarket chain based in Springfield, announced it would be getting rid of the bags in its more than 80 stores in Massachusetts and Connecticut, starting Aug. 1.
Big Y said in a press release it had already been complying with plastic bag bans in several Bay State cities and towns since 2014. These various bans had the supermarket chain move up its timeline to get rid of the bags from 2020 to this month, the company said. The move would help streamline its operations while the company would be doing its part for the environment.
Big Y had previously distributed 100 million plastic bags a year to its shoppers, it said.
The store is offering reusable bags for sale — the least expensive one is $1 ($1.06 with tax) — and it is charging 10 cents per paper bag in an effort to promote the use of the reusable bags, as paper bags also come with environmental concerns.
Becca Stickney, a customer service manager at the Big Y at 637 Lowell St., said the store put up signs about three weeks in advance of the store eliminating plastic bags.
"So, we have reusable bags for sale. We have a good variety of reusable bags," Stickney said.
"The first couple of days it was definitely a transition," she said. "People were forgetting that we were getting rid of them on the 1st, but overall I do think it's starting to get a lot better. We have so many people coming in with the reusable bags, now.
"We have heard some complaints about the 10 cent (charge), but overall, people are super pumped that we have gotten rid of plastic, and we are finally on board with that, so we are getting a lot of good feedback off of that, so that's good," she said.
Another good thing employees have noticed is that since the store has gotten rid of the plastic bags, they are no longer flapping in the trees nearby.
Stickney, who lives in Revere, said she notices that plastic bags are everywhere.
"It's ridiculous," she said. "I'm personally excited that we got rid of them, but, yeah, we just don't see them anymore."
For customers who don't want to buy a reusable bag or fork up 10 cents for a paper one, the store will put a sticker on your items so you can just carry them out in your hands or in a purse.
"Yeah, I think that's great," said Nancy Irving, of West Peabody, "but I don't think they should charge 10 cents for a bag. Nobody else does."
One of the problems with the reusable bags, she said, is she forgets to bring them with her from her car.
The paper bags have one side benefit: "They are good toys for my cats," she said. "They love them."
"I applaud Big Y for not waiting for the statewide bill," said state Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, a co-sponsor of a bill with state Sen. James Eldridge, D-Acton, to reduce plastic bag pollution in the state. "Good for them for saving money for consumers and keeping waste out of the environment."
She noted that stores like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods had also moved away from plastic shopping bags.
Ehrlich said the bill she filed included a mandatory 10-cent fee for paper and at least a 10-cent fee for reusable bags, a modest fee that would encourage consumers to move toward the sole use of reusable bags. Paper bags, Ehrlich said, are not that much better for the environment than plastic bags, and the goal overall is to reduce solid waste.
Stores pass on the cost of the plastic and paper bags in their prices, and Ehrlich said bags are a huge cost for the stores. It's why the organization that represents supermarket chains like Big Y — the Massachusetts Food Association — is on board with the plastic bag ban, she said.
"The stores are just stepping up, they are not waiting for us," Ehrlich said.
However, the bill that came out of the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture had the 10-cent fee stripped out. The bag ban bill has been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means where Ehrlich hopes the fee will be restored.
Peabody city councilor Tom Gould said a proposal for a plastic bag ban in Peabody sits with the council's subcommittee on Industrial and Community Development, which he chairs. The city's community development and public health directors are drafting an ordinance, he said.
The idea of a plastic bag ban was also raised independently by Ritamarie Cavicchio, the co-chairwoman of the grassroots GreenPeabody organization.
"By the middle of September, we should have everything wrapped up," Gould said. He was not aware of the plastic bag change at the Big Y, but he favors it.
While Peabody is not out front on the issue, "we hate to be the last to do it, but we will get it done," Gould said.
Mass Green Network's website, MassGreen.org, lists 122 cities and towns with some form of single-use plastic bag ban. If the ordinance passes, Peabody would then join several North Shore communities with bag bans in place, including Beverly, Danvers, Gloucester, Hamilton, Ipswich, Manchester, Marblehead, Newburyport, Salem, Swampscott and Topsfield.
Amid environmental and pollution concerns, and worries over how the plastic bags clog storm drains and place a burden on recycling centers, Danvers Town Meeting in May 2018 passed a bylaw amendment to ban single-use plastic bags, giving retailers more than a year to comply as the ban took effect June 1, 2019.
Dan Bennett, the chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said he has heard positive feedback about the town's bag ban.
"No complaints. No complaints from consumers or retailers. They have grasped the importance of it," Bennett said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.