WOBURN - Ward 6 Alderman Edward Tedesco says local businesses deserve a chance to exhaust recently replenished supplies before the city begins enforcing a single-use plastic bag ban that should have gone into effect months ago.
During a council meeting earlier this week, the North Woburn official explained that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, state leaders granted supermarkets and other "essential businesses" permission to ignore local plastic bag bans. That emergency declaration, enacted in March and rescinded less than two weeks ago, further prohibited retail customers from relying upon reusable cloth and heavy plastic bags to pack up their groceries and other purchases.
Under a proposed order introduced at Tuesday night's council meeting, Woburn's business community would have until Sept. 30 to come into compliance with the new regs. Without council intervention, local retailers, otherwise facing potential fines, will have to adhere to the new ordinance immediately.
Unlike similar delays pitched by the Ward 6 alderman since Woburn's plastic bag ban legislation first passed in May of 2019, the proposed moratorium appears to enjoy support from other council members, none of whom protested Tedesco's latest initiative.
As new City Council President Lindsay Higgins pointed out at the meeting, even local environmentalists like Jennifer Baker, who was amongst those initially advocating for the bag ban, are rallying behind the delay.
"She's in support of pushing this out to give people notice. I just want to make sure [her letter] is entered into the public record," Higgins stressed at the meeting.
The council, which is required to conduct two readings of proposed city ordinances before taking action, agreed to lay the matter on the table until its next meeting. It is expected the city officials will vote on the measure early next month.
According to Tedesco, though the state's suspension of municipal bag bans ended earlier this month, many supermarkets and retailers refreshed their plastic materials inventory in order to help out customers — who were prohibited from using more rugged reusable bags.
The North Woburn alderman also pointed out that city leaders, understandably distracted by the public health emergency, never had a real chance to educate the business community about the start of the bag ban. Per the local ordinance, the Board of Health, which already has its hands full, will be delegated the task of enforcing the new plastic prohibitions.
"This will give businesses time to get rid of the stock they have and give them advance notice about when the rules will go into effect. No one was really notified, because the city had bigger issues to deal with," said Tedesco.
"Boston just did the same thing [I'm proposing here], so I just copied the date they put in [for their moratorium]," he further elaborated.
In an environmental movement that has gained considerable traction in recent years, roughly 140 communities across the state have prohibited grocery stores and retail outlets from providing single-use plastic bags to customers.
Supporters of the bans say the measure is a low-cost way of eliminating litter, reducing the city's trash hauling costs, and protecting local wildlife.
Unlike regulations promulgated in Massachusetts communities like Boston, where businesses must charge a mandatory 5 cent fee for paper or reusable plastic bags, Woburn's ordinance is silent to the issue of passing those costs onto the consumer.
The local regulations apply to any materials with a thickness of less than 3 millimeters. Several exemptions to that standard apply for bags used to shield newspapers from the elements, plastic wrapped around clothing at dry cleaning businesses, and supermarket produce and meat bags. Vendors who partake in non-profit fundraisers and events like outdoor bazaars, arts-and-crafts sales, and similar events would also be exempted.
The initiative also allows Woburn's health agent to extend waivers, which would last for up to one-year, to merchants who can demonstrate a financial hardship will result from having to comply with the ordinance.
Under penalty provisions of the regulations, businesses will be issued a warning ticket for a first violation, a $50 fine for a second infraction, and a $100 ticket for all subsequent offenses.