, Gloucester, MA

May 7, 2013

Editorial: Manchester needs to revisit bag law from the start

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — Karen Park, who owns Zak’s, says she initially didn’t think the town’s ban on “single-use” plastic bags — rushed into Town Meeting, then happily and naively approved by such a margin that officials never took a vote count — would apply to the bags she distributes at her downtown Manchester store.

And why would she? In the run-up to the April 2 vote, lead petitioner Gary Gilbert and others backing the proposal focused their message on the flimsy bags used as the classic “paper or plastic” choices at markets like Crosby’s, at local pharmacies and at a few other shops – not the colorful, stylized and noticeably thicker Zak’s bags and those used at other shops, bags that shoppers might indeed be inclined to keep and reuse.

Yet the new bylaw, as written in the fine print, noted only that plastic bags with integral handles and a thickness of less than 2.5 mils — or 2.5 one-one thousandths of an inch — would be banned from distribution by stores effective July 1. That includes the bags handed out by Zak’s, North Coast Too! and other downtown stores that are now left holding the bag.

Park, in fact, is holding more than 5,000 of them. She says she supports the concept of a plastic bag ban, she just needs an extension to dispose of them. But she and other Manchester store owners and residents deserve much more than that. They deserve to have this entire bylaw withdrawn or repealed, if indeed it ever gets clearance from the state Attorney General’s office in the first place.

Even Gilbert now admits he and other backers should have spoken with more business owners. As it turns out, the “support” of businesses that Gilbert touted for this ban was drawn from all of eight businesses. And the Manchester Essex Regional Green Team kids, assigned the task of talking to the businesses, according to Francine Caudill of the town’s Coastal Stream Team, never talked to Park, but to a store employee, to get Zak’s “support.” Yikes!

Caudill now concedes that the adults pushing this ban should have talked to more businesses. And Gilbert says he would advise other towns seeking to put through a similar bylaw to be sure to “understand the supply (side)” cost to businesses this type of regulation would bring.

But let’s remember that all of these issues and concerns were indeed raised in advance by businesses and by Selectman Thomas Kehoe — who had the sense to oppose the selectmen’s endorsement of the ban. It’s just that Gilbert, Caudill, the Coastal Stream Team and the well-meaning Green Team kids that got roped into this didn’t want to hear it. Focused only on the support they were hearing — much of it from outside the community — they painted a misleading picture of what the ban would do, and — even if unintentionally — misrepresented toed to voters that it had wide business community support.

Granting people like Park and perhaps all business owners an extension from dealing with this bylaw is a good step in the right direction. But Manchester officials, its residents and businesses should indeed revisit this entire concept and process from the start — with all the true cards on the table.