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Plastic bags could be a thing of the past in Peabody

Laurie Silk of Salem loads her paper bags full of groceries into her car after shopping at Stop & Shop in Peabody. (Spenser R. Hasak)

PEABODY — Paper or plastic?

It won’t be a choice in the city for long. The Peabody City Council is expected to approve a plastic bag ban at its next meeting in two weeks.

“We’re the only community on the North Shore that is not doing something,” Ritamarie Cavicchio told the city’s Industrial & Community Development Committee Thursday night. “In terms of optics, it’s better for us as a community to take a stand.”

The Peabody activist launched a petition on change.org to ban one-time use plastic bags. At press time, the petition had nearly 400 signatures.

So far, 122 communities in Massachusetts have adopted the ban from Abington to Yarmouth, according to the Mass Green Network, a grassroots organization whose mission is to protect the earth. On the North Shore, the communities include Beverly, Danvers, Hamilton, Lynn, Marblehead, Revere, Salem, Saugus, Swampscott.

In an informal poll in the Stop & Shop parking lot on Howley Street, three of four shoppers interviewed hours before the vote favored the ban.

Shirley Silk, who was packing her van with groceries, said it’s about time. She rejects the idea that plastic bags are needed for a variety of uses, such as to pack a lunch for work. She uses a lunch box, she said.

“We’re killing the environment every day, and banning plastic bags will make a small contribution to saving the planet,” Silk said. “I don’t understand why we don’t ban styrofoam cups, too.”

Shirley Cervoni, 89, a retired executive secretary to five former Salem mayors, said she is 100 percent supportive of the ban.

“Everyone can see what plastic does to the environment,” she said.  “When I shop, I usually bring my own bags that I’ve recycled.”

Eric Charette agreed.

“I am OK with the ban,” he said. “I have no use for plastic bags, all they are doing is collecting under the sink. My mother used them for picking up dog poop, but you always see the bags caught in trees and littering streets. Paper works just as good for me.

But one Peabody retiree from Peabody, who declined to give his name, said he will miss the plastic bags.

“Now I have to buy them,” he said.

State Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead) and Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) introduced legislation that would impose a statewide ban on plastic bags. But the measure, while endorsed by nearly 100 legislators, is stuck on Beacon Hill.

Ehrlich said the revised House bill has several provisions that proponents of the ban do not support. Under the proposed revisions, the state law would replace existing ordinances in communities, some of which are stricter, and it would eliminate a 5- or 10-cent fee when customers choose a paper bag.

“Without the fee, we are just switching to paper bags which aren’t great for the environment, and we’re paying for them in the price of our groceries,” she said in a text message. “With the fee, shoppers can buy a paper bag if they want, but people will bring a reusable bag to avoid the fee.”

For his part, Eldridge said he cannot support the House version and hopes lawmakers amend the latest version to reflect the original language in the measure.

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said his members originally opposed the ban. They called it anti-consumer and anti-choice.

But their position has evolved. Today, they support a statewide ban because having a different ordinance in each community does not make sense, he said.

“We support a reasonable statewide bill which is preferred over local ordinances in 351 cities and towns,” Hurst said.

Greentumble, an international nonprofit whose mission is to change attitudes and behaviors toward a more sustainable lifestyle, said there are many reasons to ban plastic:

  • Plastic bags pollute our land and water.
  • They are made from non-renewable resources and contribute to climate change.
  • They never break down, and are harmful to wildlife, marine life, and human health.
  • Plastic bags are not easily recycled.
  • They are expensive to clean up after, and there are better alternatives.

Still, some shoppers say they like plastic bags because they can be used for a variety of purposes at home.

But Cavicchio said one-time use plastic bags can take more than 100 years to break down, and they are responsible for drain blockages, and litter.

“Banning plastic bags in Peabody is a cause that is long past due,” she said.

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