Westborough plastic bag bylaw changes to go into effect in June

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WESTBOROUGH – Changes to Westborough’s plastic bag reduction bylaw will take effect on June 20, requiring that all grocery and retail stores that offer checkout bags charge customers at least $0.10 per bag.

Additionally, the bags must either be made of recyclable paper or be reusable, made from 100% post-consumer or biodegradable material.

This comes after Town Meeting voted in March to make these changes.  

‘This is not a new concept’

Nathan Askew proposed a series of plastic bag bylaw changes at Town Meeting earlier this year. (Photo/Laura Hayes)

Westborough’s bylaw already prohibited thin-film single-use plastic bags.

Part of the recent Town Meeting article, which was petitioned by Zero Waste Westborough member Nathan Askew, however, made changes to the definition of a reusable bag. 

The previous definition described the material of such a bag as being either polyester, polypropylene, cotton or some other durable material. Bags also qualified if they were made of a durable plastic that was at least four mils in thickness. 

“This is why we’re seeing the Target bags that are just a thicker plastic,” Askew said, referencing Westborough’s Target location off Route 9. 

Residents noted that the proposed article would close this loophole. 

Under the changes, no checkout bags will be allowed to be given for free.

“This is not a new concept,” Askew said during Town Meeting. “This is something that a lot of places do.”

“It basically brings conscious of mind to the user so that it’s not so easy and convenient to go to the retail store or wherever you would like to shop and not bring a bag,” he continued.

Town plans info session

In a press release this week, the town said that businesses may request an exemption for the changes for up to six months for a “good reason,” such as undue hardship or requiring additional time to draw down their inventory.

Businesses seeking such an exemption should email Cela Dorr at [email protected] explaining a reason for the request.

The town will be holding an informational session on the changes on May 25 at 5 p.m. in the Great Hall on the second floor of the Forbes Municipal Building in town.

Those with questions are advised to contact the Westborough Community Development Department.

Other article referred to Board of Health

The article amending the plastic bag bylaw was one of two petitioned articles addressing plastic that came before Town Meeting in March. 

The second article addressed plastic reduction in general and would have required restaurants to use biodegradable materials for their dine-out containers when such an alternative exists. 

Askew set up a table in the entrance to Westborough High School, where Town Meeting was held, containing biodegradable alternatives.

“Food contamination is one of the number one reasons why recycling doesn’t get recycled, even though only a small amount of recycling happens anyway,” Askew said. 

Typical black plastic containers, even if they’re cleaned and placed in residents’ single stream recycling, may still end up in the waste stream because of the process used, he said.

“I believe if we instead had these containers that were biodegradable, you would be able to put these in the organic waste stream, which would help out our town in several ways anyway,” Askew continued.

The Advisory Finance Committee and Select Board recommended that the article be referred back to the Board of Health. 

Select Board member Ian Johnson noted that, while the board was “generally supportive” of the direction of the article, the article came to the board late in the process. 

“This will impact businesses in our town and restaurants and they know nothing about this,” Johnson said. “So, they haven’t been talked to yet.”

He said it was “worthwhile” to go through a public process that could include the businesses. The businesses, Johnson said, may have ideas on how to improve the initiative. 

Johnson proposed an amendment asking the Board of Health to review the article and report back to this year’s fall Town Meeting.

The motion to refer that article to the Board of Health did then pass.

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