Ground zero for plastics

Greater Lynn is rapidly becoming ground zero for strengthening the growing popularity of banning plastic bags and, by extension, other plastics-based products.

Saugus Town Meeting voted overwhelmingly Monday for a townwide ban on single-use plastic shopping bags. The 27-14 vote in favor of the ban puts the town in league with Lynn, Marblehead, Salem and 100 other Massachusetts cities and towns banning plastic bags.

And Saugus hasn’t finished taking aim at plastics. In two weeks, Town Meeting reconvenes to deliberate a proposed ban on foam take-out containers. Saugus Action Volunteers for the Environment (SAVE) sponsored the plastic bag ban and the container ban and introduced it to Town Meeting with a distinctly local rationale.

The bans, argued SAVE President Ann Devlin, can help “to protect the town’s unique natural beauty and its water and natural resources.”

Saugus has a vigorous and lengthy history of environmental activism with local residents pushing to get the Saugus River cleaned up and protecting the marshlands along Route 107 as well as parts of the town bordering Lynn Woods.

Cleaning up waterways and protecting marshes isn’t the same as asking people to tote reusable bags to the supermarket for use in lieu of plastic bags.

Town Meeting members opposed to the plastic bag ban took the proposal personally with Precinct 10 member Steve DiVirgilio succinctly stating his objections: “I am 100 percent certain this ban is not going to improve my quality of life.”

It’s easy to compare his argument to the one made by smokers years ago when the first efforts were made to ban cigarettes from restaurants and planes. They declared their right to smoke and denounced any effort to limit that right. Public health arguments backed up by government enforcement ultimately exiled smokers to sidewalks and parking lots.

Plastics ban advocates insist the time has come for personal inconvenience to take a backseat to environmental salvation. State Rep. Lori Ehrlich is amplifying that argument by joining fellow legislators in filing legislation proposing a statewide plastics ban.

Saugus is enforcing its plastics ban with fines of up to $100 a day. That’s a tough stance to take for a community encompassing Route 1 with its drive-thru restaurants generating plastic pollutants. It will be interesting to see if retail food and beverage firms oppose the take-out container ban when it comes up for review by Town Meeting.

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