Pepperell teen’s plastic bag ban proposal headed for town meeting

Public shows little resistance to banning checkout bags

Duncan Premus, left, with his mother, Denene Premus, at a public hearing in Pepperell for a proposed ban on plastic bags
Duncan Premus, left, with his mother, Denene Premus, at a public hearing in Pepperell for a proposed ban on plastic bags

PEPPERELL – The fall town meeting warrant will include a bylaw that, if approved, would ban single-use plastic bags from local retail stores starting next year.

Six people attended a public hearing at Town Hall on Wednesday night to offer input on the proposed bylaw. The hearing, hosted by Town Administrator Andrew MacLean, was also attended by Duncan Premus, the Bishop Guertin High School sophomore who first proposed the ban at a Board of Selectmen meeting on Aug. 26. Premus believes the ban would lessen the amount of plastic improperly discarded in town and the all-around pollution levels in the environment.

“I think that the amount of pollution we put into the environment is irresponsible,” Duncan said. “Over the summer, I’ve given some thought on what we could do. I heard about other towns doing similar plastic bag bans and thought, ‘Why can’t we do something like this?’”

If approved at the town meeting on Oct. 21, the bylaw would ban stores in town from providing single-use plastic checkout bags to customers. The bylaw defines “single-use plastic checkout bags” as a bag given at the checkout area made of plastic, including those labeled “biodegradable,” “compostable” or “photodegradable.”

Instead, stores would offer bags that are either made out of recyclable paper, natural cloths, synthetic fibers or any other kind of washable material. Thin-film product bags used to hold newspapers, dry cleaning, meat, produce and wet items would be exempt from the ban.

Violators of the bylaw would face a written warning on the first violation of the bylaw, a $100 fine on the second violation, a $200 fine on the third violation and a $300 fine on further violations.

If passed in October, the bylaw would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. Pepperell would join 122 other Massachusetts communities who’ve passed laws banning plastic bags.

Denene Premus, Duncan’s mother, said that the ban was a way for the community to “get re-trained into a mindset” of always having reusable bags instead of using and immediately getting rid of the plastic bags.

“I was in Donelan’s Supermarket and a woman in front of me had made her own cloth bags,” Denene said. “I thought that was very creative. I’ve had canvas bags since the 90s.”

There were only two instances of concern brought up at the meeting. The first came from Melinda Wilkins of the R. Wilkins Farm Stand on South Road, who was concerned about people being able to conceal items into stores or steal items from them given how most of the reusable bags were not transparent. She was also looking for more specifics on which bags are and are not allowed under the ban.

“I’ve been dealing with issues of theft, so maybe the bags need to be flat when you go into the store,” Wilkins said. “I’m just seeing what’s kosher and what’s not.”

“Who you bring into the store and what they carry out is your business,” MacLean said. “The shopping experience doesn’t need to change.”

Marguerite Talbot, a resident of Pepperell, thought the idea of the ban was “wonderful” and asked about if vinyl bags were just as harmful as plastic bags. She also suggested the town or local businesses design and sell its own reusable bags for the public.

“We’ll mostly leave that to the private enterprises,” MacLean said in response. “Which bag is best will be up to you.”

Duncan said he thought the meeting went “pretty good” and was glad to see people interested in the proposal.

“I’m amazed to see this go by so fast,” he added.