BRATTLEBORO — The single-use plastic bag has become persona non grata in one of New Hampshire’s neighboring communities across the Connecticut River.
Brattleboro has joined the ranks of towns, cities and states across the country that have banned the ubiquitous, disposable tote.
The ban is scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2018.
The new addition to an existing solid waste ordinance requires retail stores and eateries to use only reusable bags, compostable plastic bags or paper bags. Single-use plastic bags with a thickness of less than 2.25 mils, a unit equal to one thousandth of an inch, will be off limits. The thin, grocery-style bags prohibited under most bag bans are 0.5 mils, according to the bag company 1 Bag at a Time.
Brattleboro selectmen approved the new rule on a second reading Nov. 21, The Commons reported.
Last week’s vote capped a roughly year-long push, according to Tim Maciel, a Brattleboro resident who was a driving force behind the ban.
“Originally, when Trump won the election, I was influenced by former President Obama, saying ... what we should do is get involved in local issues,” Maciel said. “So I took that seriously, and an issue that I thought was a no-brainer in Vermont, in Brattleboro, was the overuse of plastic bags.”
He also credited Stewart McDermet, Abby Mnookin of 350Vermont, Bob Bady, Michelle Wright and Stephanie Nyzio in the effort.
Plastic bags “not only pollute our environment and poison our seas, but they also use oil to produce them,” said Maciel, who noted that he and other proponents of the ban would have preferred it to extend to even thicker plastic bags. “They actually cost businesses more money; businesses have to buy these things.”
Maciel said he approached the board of selectmen in November 2016 about instituting a ban, and they suggested he petition town residents on the issue. He and others gathered enough signatures to put the matter to a ballot vote in March, and it passed 1,034 to 317.
“We got an overwhelming response from the citizens of Brattleboro,” he said.
The vote was advisory, encouraging selectmen to enact an ordinance. And after voters backed it, the board revisited the issue, according to Maciel.
The town’s new ban includes some exceptions. The thin, generally handle-less, plastic bags used for produce, meat or bulk items, dry cleaning and newspapers, among other items, are OK. So is any “flexible transparent covering for covering uncooked raw meat, poultry, raw fish, hard cheese, cold cuts, fruit, and vegetable products, baked goods, or bread.”
Businesses can also apply for a hardship deferment to be given more time to abide by the new rule.
But otherwise, after establishments have received two violation warnings in a single year, they can be fined up to $50 for a first offense and $100 for each offense thereafter. Businesses can settle the fines for $25 and $50, respectively, if the fines aren’t contested, according to Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland.
The Brattleboro Reformer reported that the town is the first community in Vermont to ban the use of certain types of plastic bags.
But the concept isn’t new.
“States continue to consider strategies to reduce the use of carryout plastic bags from grocery stores and other retail outlets,” according to a July report on the website for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
California, in August 2014, became the first in the U.S. to enact legislation for a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at major retailers, according to the article. That, and a 10-cent minimum fee to use compostable, reusable plastic or recycled paper bags at certain locations, went into effect after a ballot vote upheld the legislation in 2016, the article says.
The report also lists bans in Cambridge, Mass.; Chicago; Seattle; Austin, Texas; and throughout the country.
And on Wednesday, the Boston City Council voted unanimously to ban single-use plastic bags at businesses, media outlets reported. The measure still requires Mayor Marty Walsh’s approval.
Keene has also waded into the issue. Last year, city resident Danielle Baudrand wrote a letter to the City Council requesting a ban on single-use plastic bags as an “unnecessary waste that continues to adversely affect wildlife, wildlife habitat and humans.”
The proposal generated significant discussion, but ultimately died due to the absence of a state law that allows New Hampshire cities and towns to enact such a ban.
“New Hampshire not being a home-rule state, you have to be granted authority by state legislation to do that,” then-City Manager Medard K. Kopczynski said at the time.
Back in Brattleboro, Maciel’s not resting on his laurels. He said he has been in contact with MassGreen.org, a group that works to reduce plastic bag litter and polystyrene in the Bay State.
“We’ll be talking to (the organization) about what our next steps should be in organizing a grassroots movement to persuade our state legislature to pass a statewide ban,” Maciel said.
He also plans to meet with Vermont state Rep. Michael Mrowicki, D-Putney, who introduced a plastic-bag ban bill with two other legislators earlier this year. The bill is in committee, according to the website of the Vermont General Assembly.