WOBURN - Retailers are now officially prohibited from using plastic bags in Woburn.
At the outset of this month, a temporary City Council moratorium that delayed the implementation of Woburn's single-use plastic bag prohibitions expired, meaning all Woburn merchants, including restaurants, must now use paper or other reusable materials to pack-up take-home meals and other purchased merchandise.
As of Oct. 1, all of Woburn's retailers can be fined up to $100 if found to be giving customers plastic bags with a thickness of of less than 3 millimeters. The standard was set to best describe plastic bags most commonly found at supermarket and department store checkout aisles.
There are some exceptions to three millimeter restriction, as plastic wrapped around clothing at dry cleaners, produce bags at supermarkets, and materials used to shield newspapers from the elements are all exempt. Craft and fair vendors, who commonly reuse plastic bags, are also not beholden to the rules.
First enacted in the spring of 2019, Woburn originally planned in May to join all of its immediate neighbors in enacted some form of restrictions on single-use plastic bags.
Then COVID-19 crossed the Massachusetts border and changed everything.
At the outset of the COVID-19 crisis in March, when Mass. Governor Charles Baker ordered all "non-essential" businesses to close their doors, a related emergency declaration forbid citizens from bringing reusable canvas and heavy-plastic bags to supermarkets in order to prevent the spread of the contagion.
To give supermarkets and pharmacies some flexibility in packing up customer purchases, the public health order also suspended all plastic bag bans across the state.
That order was ultimately lifted in early July, but many retailers, unaware of the reversal, continued to forbid customers from brining in reusable canvas bags.
Given that confusion, the City Council, at the behest of Ward 6 Alderman Edward Tedesco, stepped in late this summer to freeze the implementation of Woburn's ordinance until Sept. 30.
According to Tesesco, the delay not only clarified the process for confused retailers, it also gave merchants who had stocked up on new plastic bag inventory a chance to exhaust that replenished supply.
Unlike regulations promulgated in Massachusetts communities like Boston, where businesses must charge a 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 City Council, which in Oct. of 2019 passed the new rules in a 7-to-2 vote, wrote in the underling ordinance that the ban is intended to "to protect the aesthetic beauty of the City of Woburn as well as the natural resources of the City by reducing the use of single-use plastic bags that are being used, discarded, and/or littered, [and] to reduce solid waste."