By James Niedzinski
---- — MANCHESTER — This town’s new and approaching July 1 ban on the distribution of plastic bags by local grocery stores and other retailers, approved by voters April 2 as part of Manchester’s Annual Town Meeting, is already facing its first challenge.
Some store owners will be approaching the Board of Selectmen at their Town Hall meeting tonight at 6 p.m. in an effort to get some leeway from the bylaw.
The deadline to switch from plastic to non plastic is coming up on July 1, the start of the fiscal year, and one store owner has more than 5,000 plastic bags left to get rid.
“It doesn’t look good,” Karen Park, owner of Zak’s, said Friday.
Zak’s, a gift shop on Beach Street, has been in business for 32 years and sells everything from toys and children’s books to perfume and jewelry. And on Friday, customers carried out their purchases in custom plastic bags — noticeably thicker than plastic bags used in grocery stores, convenience stores and the like.
In that vein, Park, who ordered her bags in July and received them in November, said she thought the bylaw wasn’t meant to apply to bags likes those used as Zak’s, and at other Manchester shops.
Karen Roller, proprietor of North Coast Too on Union Street said Friday she did not think the bags the stores uses would be affected either.
Roller said her typical order ranges from 3,000 to 5,000 bags and lasts anywhere from one year to 1 1/2 years.
The bylaw states new, single use bags can be used or sold in retail stores as long as they meet specific standards set by the American Society of Testing Materials. Bags used for things such as produce, newspapers, and drying cleaning, typically without handles, are exempt.
But the bylaw also defines a thin-filmed, single use plastic bag — the bags targeted by the ban — as a bag with integral handles and has a thickness less than 2.5 mils — or 2.5 one-one thousandths of an inch. Gary Gilbert, who proposed the bylaw, estimated that the bags Zak’s and some other shops use are about 2.0 mils. That means the Zak’s bags and others will, as of now, be banned from distribution as of July 1.
Gilbert said he got a support for the bylaw from a number of business before the article went to vote on town meeting floor.
The article was also endorsed by a majority of the Board of Selectmen – who backed the idea on a 4-1 vote, with only Thomas Kehoe opposed — and supported by a number of students with the MERHS Green Team. It also drew extensive support from outside the town, including from a statewide environmental group and from State Rep. Lori Erlich, D-Marblehead, who has a bill for a more narrowly defined plastic bag ban advancing through the Legislature.
But Francine Caudill of the Manchester Coastal Stream Team, which backed the bylaw, said members of the Manchester Essex Regional High School Green Team were tasked with surveying residents and businesses beforehand about the bylaw.
Eric Magers, director of the Green Team, declined to comment Friday, adding questions should be answered by the school district administration.
Caudill said students surveyed mostly citizens, while also talking to seven or eight businesses, one of them being Zak’s.
But Caudill said there was a miscommunication; Park herself was not made aware of the survey, she said, only an employee of Zak’s.
”In retrospect, the adults who were for this probably should have spoken to more business,” Caudill said Friday, adding that the Stream Team, meanwhile, did not write the language for the bylaw, but merely supported it.
She added members of the Coastal Stream Team visited every business in Manchester after the bylaw passed to ensure people knew what the terms where, adding most businesses were supportive.
”Some were not happy, but willing to go along with it,” she said.
Caudill said team members did not distribute the wording of the bylaw to everyone in town, but added that she thought it was public knowledge. The warrant was available at the town clerk’s office as well as online.
Gilbert said Friday that, in retrospect, there were some things not included in the bylaw, such as how it applies to nonprofits.
”We could have given a longer phase-in time,” he said.
Gilbert also said he did not know the details of how plastic bags are ordered, how much they cost per order, and what a typical minimum order of plastic bags would be.
“If other towns write a law and ask me for some advice, I’d ask them to understand the supply (side),” Gilbert said.
Park said that she, too, favored the concept of the ban; she is just seeking more time to use up the plastic bags, with less than two months now to go before they are banned.
Park said the minimum number of bags ordered is around 5,000 bags, costing about $1,000.
”Of all the stores in town, I’m the one that’s most affected,” she said.
Gilbert and Caudill said Friday they were sympathetic with Park’s bag situation, and hoped an agreement can be made where the deadline is extended. The bylaw has also not yet been signed and certified as required by the office of state Attorney General Martha Coakley.
“We feel there will be a solution for the one or two shop owners who try to phase it over a longer time,” Caudill said Friday.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.