, Gloucester, MA

May 23, 2013

Editorial: Later starting date doesn't resolve real bag ban issues

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — Trying to right at least one of the wrongs spewing from a ban on retail plastic bags that gained approval at Town Meeting last month, the outgoing Manchester Board of Selectmen have changed the ban’s starting date from the meeting-approved July 1 to Jan. 1 2014.

The idea, of course, is to grant any businesses that has a backlog of now-banned plastic bags time to distribute them, so they don’t have to go to waste. And that’s a noble effort.

But that doesn’t solve all of the issues clouding this well-intentioned but grossly misrepresented and mishandled bylaw. For, it’s become apparent that the ban went beyond what many residents and businesses seemed to expect — and the proposed ban did not have nearly the level of support, especially from the business community, that voters were told the night they stood for its approval.

The only true remedy is to revisit the bylaw in the first place, perhaps change the thickness provision of the bags involved, or at least make it absolutely clear which types of bags would be covered by the ban, which likely would not, and what the impact would be on businesses involved.

Sadly, that wasn’t the case the first time around, when advocate Gary Gilbert and other backers largely focused on the types of thin, single-use plastic bags usually handed out at supermarkets, pharmacies and convenience stores. Yet the bylaw itself called for a ban on bags with handles that were less than 2.5 mils — or less than 2.5 thousandths of an inch – thick. That meant it also snagged the plastic but monogrammed and very reusable bags distributed by shops like Zak’s, to the surprise of Zak’s owner Karen Park and others.

Would residents have backed the ban if they were aware that those types of bags were included? Would they have given approval if they knew the truth – that students from the Manchester Essex school Green Team who were enthusiastically joining in this civic push hadn’t gotten nearly the expressions of business support that was touted, but had talked to just eight businesses, and in Zak’s case, not even to the owner?

Town officials at least need to find out, and residents deserve those answers. There is still time, given that the initial bylaw hasn’t yet been cleared by the state Attorney General’s office – and given the questions at hand, probably shouldn’t be.

Instead of simply extending the date for implementing a bad bylaw, the new Board of Selectmen should instead look toward holding a special town meeting to call for a clarified bylaw and seek a new vote – with all of the business cards, especially, on the table. And the sooner, the better.