WILMINGTON, MA – At Saturday’s Annual Town Meeting, voters overwhelmingly backed an amendment to the town’s inhabitant bylaws that bans single use plastic bags at retail, food and grocery establishments in Wilmington. In fact, the support on Article 48 was so one-sided, the Town Moderator did not ask for an official count after the vast majority of voters in the WHS Auditorium rose in support.
According to petitioner Julianne Hooper, a Wilmington college student, “the purpose of this [new bylaw section] is to limit the amount of plastic that enters and impacts the environment of Wilmington, 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.”
Hooper began her presentation by amending her original article by adding an effective date of May 5, 2019, allowing stores one full year to become compliant. Hooper also added an enforcement piece, tasking the Board of Health, or its designee, with monitoring the bylaw.
In response to an audience question, Hooper stressed it would be the store — not the shopper — that would be subject to potential fines for non-compliance. A first offense would carry just a warning. A second offense would carry a $100 fine. A third offense would carry a $300 fine and an appearance in front of the Board of Health. Everyday in non-compliance with the bylaw would count as a separate violation.
While Wilmington Health Director Shelly Newhouse noted the Board of Health chose not to change its regulations last year to include a plastic bag ban, the board was hoping such an article would eventually be brought forward by a grass-roots effort.
Hooper noted that the average American family uses 1,500 single use plastic bags annually. Overall, Americans use 100 billion plastic bags each year, of which only 1% are recycled. She stressed that plastic bags cannot be recycled in bins at home and noted it takes hundreds of years for the plastic bags, made with polyethylene, to break down. It costs more to recycle a plastic bag than create a new one.
Hooper pointed out that, as of last month, 67 other Massachusetts communities have banned plastic bags in stores, including Wakefield, Reading and Bedford. Many other towns are currently considering such bans. Some states, including California and Hawaii, have banned the bags state-wide, with New York currently going through the process. Efforts for a state-wide ban in Massachusetts have already begun.
While the majority of speakers supported the article, resident Karl Sagal felt banning plastic bags would be “a big intrusion on people’s lives” and cause an increase in the cost of groceries. Hooper counted that she spoke to one of the largest retailers in town, who assured her they wouldn’t raise their prices if the ban went into effect.
“Will this change be an inconvenience? Yes, but I think it’s reasonable to make this effort,” said Town Manager Jeff Hull. “The impact of plastic on the environment is a problem. I think [this ban] is a good idea.”
Several speakers, including Wilmington Finance Committee Chair Theresa Manganelli and former Selectwoman Suzanne Sullivan, praised Hooper for her efforts. Manganelli, and several of her Finance Committee colleagues, initially opposed the measure, but changed their minds after listening to Hooper’s presentation. Manganelli said Hooper was an example to young people in Wilmington looking to get involved in the town government process.
Over the next 12 months, Wilmington stores will begin encouraging shoppers to utilize reusable shopping bags. If shoppers wanted to use paper bags, stores may determine a fee to offset the cost. Hooper said the cost would likely be between 5 and 10 cents per bag, with some stores possibly not charging anything at all.
Exceptions to this ban include any plastic bags intended for produce/meat, newspapers, and laundry/dry cleaning articles.
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