By K.B. Sherman, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – In an event that took many people by surprise, voters at the May 16 Annual Town Meeting (ATM) voted to ban the use of plastic shopping bags in town.
The article, which has been submitted by citizen petition, had previously been rejected by both the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee (FINCOM).
Missy Hollenback, representing Shrewsbury Recycling, first gave a detailed presentation, accompanied by color slides. She asserted that plastic shopping bags were a major recycling problem and that their long degradation life and habit of flying everywhere, even into tree tops, was a major problem. The Finance Committee then again recommended it be defeated as its effects upon and costs to town businesses was unknown, as was its efficacy.
The 90-minute presentation and following debate was dominated by voters who spoke against the article. Most of those opposed said that this article had been inserted into the warrant without enough notification, without support from either the Board of Selectmen or the Finance Committee, and with neither advice from nor notification to local merchants. Others said they preferred cloth or paper bags, but banning plastic bags in Shrewsbury would be futile since surrounding towns had not done so. Others said that without merchants being on board for this proposal, they would incur considerable expense and trouble in obeying the mandate.
Those few who publicly supported the article reasserted that this was being done, in large part, for the children, who were represented as being 100 percent onboard through teaching at the town schools and who would suffer in the future if the town did not now implement the ban. Others noted that Framingham and Natick were implementing such a ban. Another voter said that she had had a plastic bag stuck in the top of a tree in her yard for over a year and had no way to get it down. Still other voters chided the assembly for not being willing to bring their own reusable bags when shopping. Another controversy erupted between voters who claimed that reusable bags bred food poisoning while others said not so.
Still another voter questioned the operational execution of such a ban to which Town Manager Daniel Morgado replied that this would be something he, as “solid waste manager for the town,” would have to create and manage, especially since the Board of Health was not yet involved. Still another voted that he was concerned with the town’s banning anything, setting a precedent for more “big government.” Still another protested that banning plastic bags was not something merchants would have to honor.
After the long discussion, the question was moved and passed by the required 2/3 vote. The article itself was then voted upon and passed handily.
The new bylaw will take effect on July 1, 2017. A warning would be given for the first violation, followed by a 50 penalty for the second offense, and $100 for all subsequent offenses.