Citing Easier Recycling, City, Council Pursue Plastic Bag Ban

The City Council and administration are reviewing a new ordinance that would ban plastic bags from retailers in Everett – an ordinance that follows the lead of Chelsea, Boston and other surrounding communities.

The matter was introduced at the Council a few weeks ago, and put on the table for further review by the administration. The goal would be to pass an ordinance that would go into effect next year.

Boston put a ban in that went into effect Dec. 14, and Chelsea passed a ban on Dec. 17 that would go into effect a year from now.

DPW Director Greg St. Louis said one of the biggest reasons to consider the ban is to eliminate plastic bags as a contaminant in the City’s recycling stream. While most plastics are recyclable, plastic bags do not recycle and cause problems with the machinery at sorting facilities.

“Our number one contaminant from the grant program we just finished was plastic bags,” he said. “We hit up neighborhoods all over the city notifying them not to bag the recyclables in plastic bags. It’s amazing how well-intentioned residents can be in putting all their recycling in a plastic bag, but if they do that the entire thing becomes a contaminant and will be thrown out like trash. Contaminants slow down the recyclers and end up getting us surcharges, which cost the taxpayers money.”

Greg Cooper, director of business compliance and recycling at the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), said getting plastics bags out of the waste stream is important, and municipalities can play a big role in that.

“Obviously, there’s been a lot of discussion about single-use plastic products, including plastic bags,” he said. “We have more than 80 communities that have passed single-use plastic bans. The benefit for recycling…is that it helps improve good curbside recycling. Often one of the largest contaminants in curbside recycling is plastic bags.”

St. Louis said that has been the case in Everett, where they have monitored recycling extensively this fall from September to November. Within that eight-week time, he said, they were able to focus directly on certain areas of the city, and those areas saw a 50 percent decline of contaminants in their recycling. A major part of that was not including plastic bags in the bin.

“I hope it would have a positive effect on our community,” he said. “There will be growing pains as people transition to other bagging methods, but hopefully that would be realized in other savings…We’ve been saving $30,000 a month since we’ve made these changes. We hope to continue trending in that matter.”

Another issue is the environment, and Karen Buck of the Friends of the Malden River said plastic bags are a problem in that riverway, as well as the Mystic River. Unfortunately, plastic bags don’t float, so they often sink to the bottom and get mired in the mud.

“They are definitely an issue,” she said. “We don’t see them floating on the top or at the trash boom because they sink. We are really focusing on it and we find them at the bottom. The problem is they break down under water and turn into microplastics that contaminate the water. Those microplastics are ingested by mammals and that hurts them.”

The ban, so far, would be like most others, except that retailers would have one year to use any bulk purchased bags already in place. Many places only give retailers six months to use up their existing supply.

The ban would not extend to reusable bags, produce bags or product bags. However, it would also include laundry/dry cleaning bags, newspaper bags, and bags used to wrap meat or fish (prepackaged or not).

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