WOBURN - Cementing his status as one of the community's most persistent plastic bag ban critics, Ward 6 Alderman Edward Tedesco recently introduced legislation that would delay implementation of the new city ordinance until early next fall.
During a City Council meeting tonight, Tedesco will have a chance to outline a proposed order that would delay the implementation of Woburn's plastic bag ban until Sept. 30.
Technically, the new regulations should already be in effect as of May 1, but due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the rules are apparently not yet being enforced.
Woburn's Board of Health, which has its hands full these days tracking COVID-19 cases and trying to help businesses interpret and comply with the state's economic reopening plan rules, is charged with the job of enforcing the new single-use plastic bag ban.
Further complicating the picture, the Mass. Department of Public Health (DPH) only just recently rescinded an emergency order that had prohibited state residents from bringing reusable cloth and heavy plastic bags to grocery stores and supermarkets.
Tonight's City Council meeting, set to begin at 7 p.m., will be the second consecutive gathering to be held in a virtual setting through the use of video-conferencing software. Tedesco's delaying legislation is currently listed as the very last matter on the meeting agenda.
In May of 2019, the council in a 7-to-2 vote made Woburn the latest community in Massachusetts to adopt an ordinance that prohibits retailers from packing up customer purchases in so-called single-use plastic bags. In Woburn, where offenders will reportedly face fines of up to $100 for ordinance violations, the ban involves plastic bags provided at checkout aisles that have a thickness of less than 3 millimeters.
Tedesco has been one of the most dogged opponents of the local ordinance, which he and Alderman at-large Michael Concannon have labeled as an example of government overreach. Though both City Council members voted against the acceptance of the ordinance back in 2019, Tedesco managed to convince his peers to delay its proposed Jan. 1 implementation date to late this spring.
In late February, as the city inched closer to that May 1 start date, the Ward 6 alderman unsuccessfully tried on two separate occasions to postpone the implementation of the ordinance until this summer. Both proposed delaying orders, which overwhelmingly failed in 7-to-2 and 8-to-1 votes, were introduced as state legislators announced they were debating the merits of a superseding statewide plastic bag ban that would override some clauses within Woburn's regulation.
Tedesco's latest proposal is being introduced after public health officials in March issued an emergency order that forbid cities and towns from enforcing local plastic bag bans.
The public health declaration was just about two weeks ago, but in several cities and towns across the state — including in neighboring Reading — citizens and retailers have reported confusion about the scope of the recent DPH order.
The previous statewide grocery store restrictions were linked to Governor Charles Baker’s declaration of a state emergency and subsequent mandate on March 23 that shuttered all “non-essential” businesses. Two days later, Mass. DPH Commissioner Monica Bharel, in declaring supermarkets and pharmacies are deemed an essential service, hinged a number of caveats to continued store operations, including requirements that the businesses keep customers spaced apart, cap the number of people allowed within stores at once, and offer special senior shopping hours.
Yet another special condition suspended all local plastic bag bans on the grounds that the virus could be spread to employees through contaminated surfaces. Besides prohibiting supermarkets from allowing customers to bring reusable bags into stores, Bharel’s March 25 order also granted supermarkets and pharmacies the rights to pack-up customers’ merchandise in single-use plastic bags.
On July 11, Bharel, pointing out the state’s economic reopening plan loosens previous operational restrictions that applied to grocery stores, rescinded her March 25 directive.