WESTBOROUGH – Members of the Westborough business community voiced concerns regarding changes to the town’s plastic bag bylaw during an informational session last Wednesday.
Adopted at Town Meeting earlier this year, the changes are scheduled to take effect next month, pending final approval from the state Attorney General.
The Westborough Economic Development Committee, as a result, hosted this informational session to help answer questions.
Business owner notes concerns
Among those raising concerns was Ryan Maloney, who owns Julio’s Liquors in the Westborough Shopping Center.
Maloney noted that, for the past two years, businesses have been at the “forefront” of dealing with verbal abuse stemming from mask mandates and COVID-19.
“We’re finally getting a little on the other side of this, and now my crew will have to explain to everybody that we have to charge you a $0.10 bag fee where we used to charge you nothing,” Maloney said.
He further noted that money generated from the fee is going back to the store, making it look like the store is choosing to charge instead of being “forced” to do so. Maloney also pointed out that the store would have to charge $0.10 for a bag for a bottle of liquor just as they would for a larger grocery bag.
“We’re being forced to charge that money to the consumer at a point in time [when] we’re closing in on $5 a gallon of gas,” Maloney said.
“We’re closing in on pretty high inflation,” he continued. “My guys can’t even keep up with the price increases that we’re getting from supply chain [and] all these issues.”
What was approved
Westborough already had a bylaw in place prohibiting thin-film single-use plastic bags.
Zero Waste Westborough member Nathan Askew then petitioned a Town Meeting article to make changes to that bylaw, including changes to the definition of a reusable bag.
The definition had previously described a reusable bag as being made of either polyester, polypropylene, cotton or some other durable material. Bags could also qualify if they were made of a durable plastic that was at least four mils in thickness.
Under the changes, all bags must now be either made of recyclable paper or be reusable, made from 100% post-consumer or biodegradable material.
Additionally, the article will, indeed, require that retail and grocery stores charge at least $0.10 for all bags, prohibiting these businesses from giving out bags for free.
Residents, businesses react
Speaking last week, Maloney argued that the change will impact customers picking up food from restaurants.
Resident Dexter Blois expressed concerns about residents who may not be able to afford the change. He said he went to the grocery store that day and got eight paper bags, which would cost $0.80 under these changes.
“You do that three or four times a month and it does build up,” Blois said. “Some folks in Westborough that use the food pantry, for instance, aren’t going to be able to afford the $0.10 for a paper bag.”
Maloney further noted that Town Meeting, which had about 165 voters, voted on the article after midnight.
“Everybody that doesn’t get to vote for this, such as businesses in the town, are now going to have to deal with the repercussions,” Maloney said.
Blois called it a “horribly” thought out bylaw, adding that the prior version wasn’t bad.
“Somebody ought to do something to get it either rescinded altogether or modified so that it’s more palatable,” Blois said.
Changes still need AG’s approval
Businesses can request an exemption from the bylaw for up to six months.
Those seeking an exemption should email Cela Dorr at [email protected] explaining their reason for the request.
Town Manager Kristi Williams also emphasized last week that any bylaw change must be approved by the Attorney General’s office.
The town was still waiting for that approval as of Wednesday of last week.
“We’re holding this meeting so everyone is prepared for it passing,” Williams said. “But we definitely want to be clear that it’s also a possibility that the Attorney General does not approve some or all of the amendments.”