Westborough Town Meeting to consider amendments to plastic bag bylaw

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Westborough town iconWESTBOROUGH – Westborough stores would have to charge customers for bags if a proposed new bylaw passes at Town Meeting this weekend.

There are two articles petitioned by Zero Waste Westborough (ZWW) for the March 19 Town Meeting. Together, these would add to an existing plastic bag reduction bylaw in place in Westborough, requiring that fee and changing the definition of a “reusable plastic bag,” in kind.

Restaurants would also have new requirements.

Bylaw would institute $0.10 charge

The current reusable plastic bag definition describes the material of such a bag as being either polyester, polypropylene, cotton or some other durable material.

Bags also qualify if they are made of a durable plastic that is at least four mils in thickness. Thicker Target bags are an example of this, ZWW member Nathan Askew said during a March 8 Select Board meeting. He noted that those bags aim to be reusable.

The new definition would say that a reusable checkout bag simply has to be either 100% post-consumer material or biodegradable.

“The reason [plastic] is so commonly used for bags is because it’s so cheap to produce,” Askew said. “…We’re just adding that market again for the post-consumer material because we have a lot of plastic to use, and a bag is actually a pretty good option for it.”

ZWW, further, wants to add language that would require all retail and grocery stores to charge at least $0.10 for all checkout bags.

No bags would be given for free.

The second article is more broad, adding language requiring restaurants to use biodegradable material for their dine-out containers — like takeout trays and sauce cups — when such an alternative exists.

Askew noted that there is language in the bylaw that would allow the Select Board to grant exceptions if they find that compliance would require undue hardship.

Select Board weighs in

Select Board members asked several questions about the details of this proposal after Askew’s presentation.

Ian Johnson expressed concern that the details hadn’t been communicated to stores and restaurants.

Shelby Marshall also said some of Westborough’s restaurants may need assistance and education on where to source the new products.

“I’m supportive of this change,” Marshall said. “[But] I don’t know that I’m there yet on the charging for bags.”

Marshall recalled a recent trip to Maine where she went to a store that charged for bags. She said she was sensitive, in particular, to older residents, noting that grocery prices are increasing. A fee for bags would be an additional cost.

Sean Keogh, meanwhile, gave his thoughts.

“I’m generally supportive,” he said. “These are things that we have to do.”

Keogh said he would be interested in following up and working with the community to bring this matter back to Westborough’s fall Town Meeting if it doesn’t pass at Town Meeting this month.

Town Meeting is scheduled for Saturday.

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