High school sophomore pitches plastic bag ban for Pepperell

Duncan Premus asks Board of Selectmen for support on new bylaw

Duncan Premus with a reusable shopping bag.

PEPPERELL – Bishop Guertin High School sophomore Duncan Premus has been back in school for barely a week and had already found himself a hefty after-school activity: preparing a new town bylaw banning single-use plastic bags.

Premus, accompanied by his mother, Denene, attended the Board of Selectmen meeting late last month  to officially present a draft of the bylaw.

The idea was to see if the board would support this proposal and place it on the warrant for the upcoming Fall Town Meeting.

“I’ve grown up in a family that has greatly encouraged the mindset of being a steward of this planet with a vested interest in healthy air, water and soil,” Premus said. “Collectively, some small actions on a local scene can make a big impact on the environment. My mom and I feel that it is important for Pepperell to join a growing number of neighboring towns that are committed to reducing the number of plastics.”

According to the draft, the bylaw is meant to reduce the use of plastic bags at checkout counters of local retail stores. This especially applies to grocery stores, some which offer plastic bags for customers to carry-out items. When discarded, single-use plastic bags can clog storm drain systems and add to polluted land due to it not being biodegradable. Various marine and aquatic animal deaths have been caused by ingesting the plastic bags or getting caught in them.

“Each year, millions of plastic bags are used and essentially wasted by being thrown into landfills, which make their way to the oceans and clog streams,” Premus said at the meeting.

Premus said later on in the week that Town Administrator Andrew MacLean recommended he visit MassGreen.org to look up other towns that have passed similar bylaws. According to the website, 122 cities and towns in Massachusetts have passed regulations on plastic bags.

If the bylaw passes, no store in Pepperell will be allowed to offer single-use plastic bags at checkout. Any existing stock of the plastic bags should be cleared out and disposed of properly by Jan. 1, 2020. Store owners should instead offer reusable or recyclable bags, though thin-film bags used for meat, produce, wet items, dry cleaning and newspapers would still be allowed.

Those who violate the bylaw by offering plastic bags will be issued a written warning on first violation, a $100 fine on the second violation, a $200 fine on the third violation and a $300 fine on further violations.

“We went to many businesses in town, the response from chain stores is officially that they follow the rules and regulations of the town,” Premus said. “Some business who have stores in multiple locations said they have experienced such bylaw changes already. The corporate head of customer service for Donelan’s supports environmental products and pointed out to us that they already sell some reduced-plastic items.”

Premus said that there is a public hearing on the bylaw planned for Sept. 18.

MacLean said the draft will be revised throughout the process of the public hearing next month.

The selectmen showed great enthusiasm for Premus’s proposal. William Greathead even asked if other things could be added to the bylaw, including plastic straws. The board unanimously moved to put the article on the Fall Town Meeting warrant and then shook Premus’s hand.

“I was actually surprised by that,” Premus said. “I didn’t think they’d be that enthusiastic about this.”