20210820-LOC-Plastic Bag

Keene leaders could soon discuss potentially regulating single-use plastic products, on the recommendation of two city councilors.

In an Aug. 16 letter to the council and Mayor George Hansel, Councilors Andrew Madison and Bobby Williams proposed limiting the use of disposable plastics in the city and on city property. Arguing such items meet the state’s definition of a public nuisance (which, by state statute, they say municipalities can regulate), they have asked that the matter be taken up by the council’s Planning, Licenses and Development Committee.

“[Plastics] pollute our rivers, lakes and oceans; and they languish in landfills or as litter in public areas for centuries,” Williams, who represents Ward 2 in Keene, and Madison, who represents Ward 3, wrote in their letter. “Some plastic products are durable and we use [them] frequently, if not daily, over the course of years. However many products, such as bags and food/drink containers, are used for only a few minutes yet stick with us for hundreds of years.”

The councilors did not provide specifics of their envisioned rule but said in the letter that they would like to use an ordinance from Portsmouth that went into effect late last year as a model. That regulation restricts the use of disposable cups, bags and containers.

However, instead of referring the matter to the PLD Committee as requested, Hansel referred it to City Attorney Tom Mullins on a request from Councilor Randy Filiault. While Filiault said he agrees with the proposal’s intent, he worried about the likelihood of someone suing the city over it, creating costly legal bills for taxpayers.

“... We actually tried to put an ordinance through, but we pulled it back because we found the state of New Hampshire actually controls these types of decisions,” he said. “Nobody has challenged [Portsmouth’s law] yet. My feeling is, if somebody challenges it, it’s going to be an expensive court battle.”

A plastic bag ban in Keene was considered in 2016, but ultimately failed to progress because of the lack of a state law authorizing such an ordinance.

During Thursday’s City Council meeting, Madison said he agreed with Filiault’s request to have Mullins review the proposal.

“I think it makes sense,” Madison said in an interview Friday morning. “I think it’s wise for [Mullins] to take a look at it first to make sure we’re doing this the right way.”

“It’s time for the city to step up and take a stand on the issue,” he added.

Williams could not be reached for comment Friday morning.

Mia Summerson can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or msummerson@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @MiaSummerson