Brattleboro plastic-bag ban begins July 1

Merchants may apply for extension

BRATTLEBORO — Attention, Brattleboro shoppers: You have about six months to stock up on reusable bags.

Beginning on July 1, 2018, stores in town can no longer offer single-use, thin-film plastic bags to customers.

The Selectboard passed the ordinance, “Regulating Single-use Plastic Bags Within the Town,” at the Nov. 21 meeting.

This was the second reading of the amended ordinance - the first was at the Nov. 7 regular Selectboard meeting, when, in a 3-2 decision, the Board changed the proposal from prohibiting plastic bags no less than 1.0 mil thick to banning bags 2.25 mils or thinner. [“Plastic bags not banned in Brattleboro ... yet,” News, Nov. 15]

The vote was the same at the Nov. 21 meeting. Selectboard Chair Kate O'Connor and Board member John Allen cast the two dissenting votes.

Allen explained his vote: “The intent of the initial request was single-use plastic bags [...] of 1 mil and under,” he said. “I agree with everything everybody is saying, pros and negatives, but for me, I'm going with 1 mil and I think that's where we should have ended up. But I'm glad we're doing something.”

O'Connor said her reasons for voting against the ordinance were the same as Allen's. She then pointed to the reusable bag she carries around with her, and said she will continue to use it.

Questioning timeline

Although Board member Brandie Starr voted for the ordinance, she said she wanted to “go on the record” to say, “the timeline annoys me.” She said she wished the ban had gone into effect sooner, especially considering the provision that merchants can apply for an extension.

“It's wicked long,” Starr said.

Starr said she would not “hold up the vote,” though, and noted the saying about how “the perfect gets in the way of the good.”

Board member Tim Wessel, who introduced the 2.25 mil amendment at the Nov. 7 meeting, said he was in favor of the timeline “because I think it's fair to give people some time to prepare.”

The Selectboard and the town manager's staff created the ordinance in response to the March 2017 Town Meeting nonbinding referendum eliminating single-use plastic bags in town.

The ordinance states that retail, retail food, and retail service establishments can sell or convey merchandise to customers only in reusable bags, compostable plastic bags, or paper bags.

Some categories of merchandise are excluded from the ban. “Thin-film plastic bags used to contain dry cleaning, newspapers, produce, meat, bulk foods, wet items,” and similar items are acceptable, and the ordinance notes these bags are typically manufactured without handles. “Flexible transparent covering,” such as cling-film used to wrap raw meat, cheese, cold cuts, produce, and baked goods are okay too, according to the new law.

A business owner can request a six-month hardship deferment, and get two extensions on the deferment, if compliance “would cause significant economic difficulty” or “there is no readily available compliant substitute.” Those requests go to the town manager's office, and the ordinance states that “deferment decisions are effective immediately and are final.”

Penalties and enforcement

The town manager's office is also responsible for penalties and enforcement, and after two warnings on violations, business owners will have to pay $50 for first offenses and $100 for second, and all subsequent, offenses.

At the Nov. 21 public hearing on the proposed ordinance, Tim Maciel, who helped organize the drive for the bag ban, acknowledged how often people forget their reusable bags when they go shopping.

Maciel mentioned the “reusable bag tree” near the checkout lanes at the Brattleboro Food Co-op, and expressed his hope that “other businesses copy it.”

Maciel also asked the Selectboard to consider accelerating the timeline to enforce the bag ban sooner than July. O'Connor said changing the timeline would require a further amendment to the ordinance, and that would require a second reading at the next Board meeting.

Board member David Schoales noted that any business owner can start early.

“Having a six-month period doesn't mean everybody has to wait six months,” Schoales said. “I think people are going to start transitioning as soon as they run out of [banned] bags.”

Wessel asked townspeople to talk to business owners and convince them to switch to different bags before the ordinance goes into effect.

“Have them get in front of it,” said Wessel, “and encourage other business [owners] to say, 'It wasn't so hard.'”

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