Plastic bag ban goes into effect in five towns next week


Updated Friday, December 30

At their town meetings last spring, five out of six Island towns included a ban on the use of disposable plastic bags in retail stores as part of their warrants. On March 8, Oak Bluffs selectmen postponed consideration of a ban until the next year’s town meeting. The ban goes into effect in Chilmark, Aquinnah, West Tisbury, Tisbury, and Edgartown on Jan. 1, 2017.

Several Edgartown businesses have been granted extensions. Edgartown Health Agent Matt Poole has received four written extension requests and two verbal requests, including one from a closed seasonal business. “We have granted extensions to all those requests while we work out specifics of making a transition to a fully compliant bag going forward,” Mr. Poole told The Times via email.

The Vineyard Conservation Society (VCS) spearheaded the drive for the ban on the Island. According to our March 9 article, “Oak Bluffs selectmen shelve town-wide plastic bag ban,” Samantha Look of VCS attended the the March 8 meeting in Oak Bluffs and attempted to convince the selectmen to keep the ban on their town warrant. Ms. Look reminded the board that in addition to being litter, the bags have deleterious effects on wildlife, both in the ocean and on land. She said the VCS has done extensive research into alternative bags that are biodegradable or compostable. “Unfortunately, what is available out there right now doesn’t solve the problem that we see,” she told the Oak Bluffs selectmen. “You need industrial composting to work with present alternatives, which we don’t have.”

According to the VCS website, in 2017 businesses in the five towns will provide paper bags containing at least 40 percent recycled material, or reusable bags of any material. Many other types of plastic bags will still be allowed, such as those used to wrap produce, meat, and bulk goods, and customers will still be able purchase packaged bags, such as trash can liners and bags for dog waste. Compostable and biodegradable plastic bags that otherwise fit the ‘single-use’ description are not allowed.

Although it made it as far as passage in the state senate last June, according to a July 1 report from the State House News Service, the effort to impose a statewide ban on plastic bags was shelved last summer: “The budget deal reached by six House and Senate negotiators Wednesday did away with a number of outside sections, including a restriction on gas pipeline siting, a plastic bag ban, and a moratorium on the resettlement of timber rattlesnakes on an island in the Quabbin Reservoir.”