Everything You Need To Know About Wilmington’s Upcoming Plastic Bag Ban

WILMINGTON, MA — The town’s plastic bag ban bylaw will go into effect on May 5, 2019.

The Plastic Bag Reduction Bylaw will ban thin film single-use plastic checkout bags from stores and restaurants. Bag litter detracts from Wilmington’s natural beauty, is harmful to wildlife. Plastic bags are difficult to dispose of. They cannot be part of single stream recycling, and moreover only 5 -10% are recycled today. They end up in the environment. The bylaw does not restrict other uses of plastic bags such as for newspapers, dry cleaning, and produce bags within a grocery store.

The Wilmington Health Department has put together the following Q&A for residents:

Why did Wilmington propose a ban on plastic checkout bags?

Plastic checkout bags are not designed for reuse, generally tearing or puncturing after a first use. They are easily transported with the wind and are one of the most visible components of roadside and shoreline litter. They negatively impact both tourism and our own enjoyment of the natural beauty of the Island. They kill countless birds, fish, and marine mammals through ingestion and entanglement. They are not accepted by our local recycling companies and even when disposed of properly, make up a significant component of solid waste in landfills and increase our waste disposal costs. In addition, plastic bags are produced from oil and natural gas, and never fully biodegrade, remaining in the environment as small or even microscopic particles, essentially forever.

Which bags will be banned?

Plastic bags under 2.5 mils in thickness will no longer be provided to customers during checkout.

What about the plastic bags grocery stores provide for produce or deli meat, for example?

Plastic bags that are used before checkout for bulk foods, meats and produce, dry cleaning bags and similar items will still be provided in stores. The ban only deals with bags provided by a store to a customer during checkout.

What about bags for small or easily damaged items?

Bags for carrying small items, such as beads or hardware items that are used before checkout, like produce bags will not be affected by the ban. Paper bags would still be allowed, and could be used to carry small items and things that could be damaged if they were in a larger bag with other items.

What about bags used to protect newspapers?

The ban only covers carryout bags provided at checkout, so newspaper delivery bags are acceptable.

What about plastic bags that are “biodegradable” or “compostable”?

They will not be allowed if they are less than 2.5 mils thick. Bags marketed as ‘biodegradable’ or ‘compostable’ are not a good alternative to regular plastic bags because the science on these plastic bags is not settled. It’s unclear whether they degrade quickly enough to ensure they don’t harm animals or the environment. So, allowing their use at this time does not ensure that we would meet our goal to reduce the many impacts of plastic bags. These bags are also unlikely to be an attractive option to retailers because at this time they are more expensive than regular plastic or paper bags.

Can stores still sell trash bags, Ziplock bags, pet waste bags and the like?

You will still be able to purchase packages of multiple plastic bags such as sandwich bags, Ziploc bags, and trash bags. The ban only deals with bags provided by a store to a customer during checkout.

 I reuse my plastic checkout bags to line wastebaskets.  I know people use them to collect dog waste.  Now what am I supposed to do for those miscellaneous uses?

You can reuse produce bags, newspaper bags, bread bags and the like which are not covered by the ban.  Paper bags can be substituted for many miscellaneous purposes. If you really do need plastic, you will still be able to purchase packages of multiple plastic bags, like sandwich bags or trash bags.

When I go to a store and they’re not allowed to provide me with a plastic checkout bag, what are my options?

Stores can still provide paper bags and plastic bags that are over 2.5 mils or thicker. However, a major objective of this bylaw is to get away from single-use bags altogether.

Try to bring your own reusable bags when you shop, or a backpack or box or even your own old ‘recycled’ plastic checkout bags if they are up to it. Here are some tips for remembering your reusable bags:

  • Try keeping your reusable bags in your car, or at work.
  • After you put your groceries away, hang your reusable bags by the door.
  • Keep them by your keys so you remember to take them back out to the car with you.
  • Finally, if you forget and leave your bags in the car while shopping, just put your groceries back in the cart and bag them at your car.

A concern of some consumers is that plastic checkout bags are sometimes used as trash can liners and for dog poop bags. There are good alternatives for both:

For dog poop bags, use bread bags, bagel bags, produce bags, or newspaper bags or order inexpensive biodegradable eco-friendly poop bags – 900 for $19.99 for example. A concern of some consumers is that plastic checkout bags are sometimes used as trash can liners and for dog poop bags. There are good alternatives for both.

Will stores be charging a fee for permitted checkout bags?

This bylaw does not require or prohibit a fee – stores may charge a fee if they choose. Or they may choose to provide a credit to customers who bring their own bags. One of the objectives of the ban is to encourage people to bring their own reusable bags when they shop.

Are any stores exempt?

The ban targets bags, not stores, so no stores would be exempt. All stores will have to stop providing plastic checkout bags under 2.5 mils.

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