Recycling Committee skips plastic-bag bylaw

Community survey results lead to alternate methods of addressing single-use bags

Ayer has taken a proposed ban on plaastic bags off the table.
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AYER – Responses to a recently closed online survey have changed the minds of town officials on pursuing a bylaw restricting plastic bags.

The Ayer Recycling Committee shared an online survey with residents in early July asking if they would support the committee bringing a single-use plastic bag bylaw to Town Meeting for approval. After keeping the survey open for three weeks and receiving 149 responses, the committee closed the survey with about 71% showing support for the bylaw and 29% not wanting the bylaw to be pursued. However, because of the written explanations some residents gave with their answers against the bylaw, Committee Chair Laurie Sabol said she decided not to further pursue a bylaw on restricting the use of plastic bags.

“There was a lot of support for the bylaw, for sure,” Sabol said. “But there was also very good justification for not doing it. The kinds of good responses standing out were people saying plastic bags were a big nuisance. They cause litter and have an environmental impact in manufacturing them. One thread in the negative responses was people reusing bags, which I was thrilled to read and really influenced my decision not to pursue the bylaw.”

Sabol said the survey came about after she approached Town Manager Robert Pontbriand and Select Board Vice Chair Scott Houde last October. She said both supported the idea of having a plastic-bag bylaw. She noted that momentum for developing the bylaw was lost due to the coronavirus pandemic, but she still wanted to investigate.

“There are over 130 towns in Massachusetts that have passed bylaws reducing or banning single-use plastic bags,” Sabol said. “I felt this was an important bandwagon to jump on.”

Despite the bylaw being off the table, Sabol is still looking to help the community learn how to use plastic bags properly. She plans to offer effective education methods to residents through various methods, including messages through Ayer’s social-media accounts, public-access television and even presentations at town meetings. Those messages are expected to start being shared in early September.

Other Nashoba Valley towns that have approved plastic-bag bylaws, according to the Massachusetts Green Network, include Pepperell and Townsend. Both towns approved their respective plastic bag bylaws at Town Meeting in 2019.