Published in the September 28, 2017 edition.


WAKEFIELD — A revised bylaw banning plastic bags from being distributed to customers in Wakefield stores will be heading to the November Regular Town Meeting. A slightly different proposal went before Annual Town Meeting last May, but after much discussion voters referred the matter back to the Board of Selectmen for more study.

The board then appointed a Plastic Bag Committee to look at the matter. A prime concern raised at Town Meeting was the impact that a ban would have on businesses, especially small businesses.

Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio said that the Plastic Bag Committee included Caitlin Bracken (the high school student who came up with the initial proposal to ban plastic bags), local merchant Rada Frolichstein, Laurie Hunt of the Chamber of Commerce board, local resident Tasha Festel and Selectmen Peter May and Mehreen Butt. Ultimately, Maio said, the committee concluded that the goal was to reduce the use of so called single use plastic bags.

According to the bylaw language, “The purpose of this bylaw is to limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, preserve the oceans, protect wildlife and reduce the amount of trash that ends up on the streets and in landfills by using recyclable, reusable or compostable bags instead of thin-film single-use plastic checkout bags.”

The proposed bylaw defines a single-use plastic bag as “a carryout bag provided by a store to a customer at the point of sale. Checkout bags shall not include bags, whether plastic or not, in which loose produce or products are placed by the consumer to deliver such items to the point of sale or checkout area of the store.”

The bylaw states that “Thin-film single-use plastic bags shall not be distributed, used or sold for checkout or other purposes at any retail or grocery store within the town of Wakefield. Customers are encouraged to bring their own reusable or biodegradable shopping bags to stores. Retail or grocery stores are strongly encouraged to make reusable checkout bags available for sale to customers at a reasonable price.”

Maio said that one of the changes that the study committee made was to reduce the thickness of banned bags from 2.5 mils to 2.25 mils. A “mil” is defined as one thousandth of an inch.

Thin-film plastic bags used to contain dry cleaning, newspapers, produce, meat, bulk foods, wet items and other similar merchandise, typically without handles, would still be permissible, according to the bylaw language.

If passed by Town Meeting in November, the bylaw would go into effect on July 1, 2018, but stores with less than 2,500 square feet of retail space would have until Sept. 1 to comply. In cases of hardship, extensions of up to three months may be granted by upon written request.

Enforcement of the plastic bag ban would fall to the Town Administrator, who “shall determine the inspection process to be followed, incorporating the process into other Town duties as appropriate. Any retail or grocery store distributing plastic grocery bags in violation of this bylaw shall be subject to a non-criminal disposition fine.”

The fine amounts are actually increased in the new proposed bylaw over those set out in the original bag ban proposal.

“Any alleged violation of the Plastic Bag Reduction Bylaw shall be made the subject of noncriminal disposition proceedings by the Town Administrator or his or her designee under G.L. c. 40, § 21D. The penalty for such violation shall be a written warning for the first offense, a fine of $100 for a second offense, a fine of $200 for the third and a fine of $300 for a fourth and any subsequent offense.”

Maio said that if the plastic bag ban passes Town Meeting in November, the town will have until July 1 to do a marketing/education campaign to help merchants and consumers adjust to the change.

Most members of the board expressed support for the plastic bag ban. Selectman Edward Dombroski wanted to know what analyses had been done by the committee as to the economic impact of plastic bag bans in other communities. He also wanted to know how many bags would be saved or how many pounds of bags would be saved in Wakefield.

“Any other initiative where you’re trying to have a results oriented approach,” Dombroski said,  “you know what the result is expected to be. Absent that, it seems more theoretical than practical.”

Selectman Ann Santos said, “Environmentally, it’s a no-brainer.”

The selectmen voted to place the plastic bag ban on the November Town Meeting warrant.