Plastic Bag Ban Goes Into Effect for Northampton

Katherine Hazen ’18
News Editor

In late 2014, The Sophian reported on the then-proposed plastic bag ban for the City of Northampton.  Since then, the Northampton City Council has unanimously approved the ordinance proposed by Councilors Jesse Adams and Paul D. Spector. The ordinance went into effect Jan. 1 of this year, significantly earlier than the initially proposed date of Nov. 1, 2016.

The ban – similar to those imposed in other Massachusetts cities – compels Northampton retail establishments to “dispense only compostable plastic, reusable or biodegradable shopping bags,” according to the City of Northampton website.

The ban targeted styrofoam as well, but admitted some exceptions, such as specialty thin-film bags or hardship deferments for businesses if they could demonstrate the ban would cause them “great economic difficulty,” according to the ordinance.

Adams said he believes the ban is working.

“I think the community has responded and adapted well. There is a large increase in people bringing their own bags, which is perfect because when this happens, it is a win for both the environment and the business,” Adams said.  “I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback, but everyone does not love it — I’ve heard complains from consumers as well.”

“So far I think it’s going well,” Mayor David Narkewicz said.  “We tried to do a lot of work in advance of it taking effect on Jan. 1.  We did a bunch of educational outreach to businesses; we mailed letters to all city businesses, that would be effected; we did kind of a ‘bring your own bag’ poster campaign … Everything from smaller retailers but also Walmart and Stop and Shop have made the transition on Jan. 1 without any issue.”

Some students complained about the inconvenience posed by the paper bags.   

“CVS paper bags do not have handles on them so they are more uncomfortable to carry,” said Cindy Li ’18.

In a city as politically liberal as Northampton, the plastic bag ban seems like it was not as contentious a decision as in other cities considering the change.  Many consumers already bring their own reusable bags when shopping.  In April 2015, Serio’s  went paper-bag free, creating a BagShare program to offer customers cloth bags, assuming they’ll bring it back the next day, according to the Daily Hampshire Gazette.  In addition, most restaurants in Northampton did not use styrofoam prior to the ban, as The Sophian reported in 2014.

Much of the research on these bans proves inconclusive: some researchers say these bans are costly, environmentally ineffective and detrimental to the employment rate, while other research asserts that plastic bags pose a threat to animals and sit in landfills for 10 to 20 years.

It is too soon to observe the ban’s effects on the city’s unemployment rate, but it seems like most residents are on board, even if reluctantly so.        

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