Provincetown Could Become First on Cape To Ban Plastic Bags

plastic bagPROVINCETOWN – California became the first state in the country to implement a state-wide ban on plastic bags and one Cape town will consider similar restrictions this fall.

Provincetown voters at Special Town Meeting later this month will consider a new bylaw to phase out plastic bags by April 15, 2015.

Laura Ludwig, a member of the Provincetown Recycling and Renewable Energy Committee, has spearheaded the effort.

She said the Provincetown effort is meant to reduce the number of plastic bags in town.

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“Our concern here in Provincetown is more for the danger that light weight plastic bags can have on the environment, both in aesthetics but also in entanglement and ingestion issues,” Ludwig said.

The proposal was on the town meeting warrant in April, but it was postponed due to concerns of retailers in town. The group working on the bylaw has reached out to the retail community, including the Stop and Shop and the larger retail communities on Commercial Street, in order to refine the language of the bylaw.

“We don’t have a lot of stores in Provincetown but the ones we have are important to the local economy here, so we don’t really want to spring anything on anyone,” Ludwig said.

“It was right that the retail sector decided, ‘you guys need to back to the drawing board.’ And it wasn’t just retailers. There were many community members who said we support this in principal but you need to be a little more clear on what you are trying to regulate here,” she said.

Ludwig said retailers like the owners of Marine Specialties, pointed out that the language was not specific enough for retailers’ purposes.

The definition of plastic bags that will be phased out by the bylaw now includes a specific thickness, less than 1.5 mils. Plastic bags are measured in mils. One mil is one-thousandth of an inch.

The ban does not include smaller bags under 11 by 17 inches that are used interdepartmentally within stores for deli meats for example; bags for prescriptions; newspaper bags; or bags used for dry-cleaning.

Ludwig said the language is meant specifically to “accommodate the bag usage that people are quite committed to, such as picking-up-after-your-dog bags,” she said.

Newspaper bags and other small plastic bags are used with frequency in Provincetown to pick up dog mess. The town is a major destination for people vacationing with their pets. Ludwig said the new bylaw language ensures that people can still use those types of bags.

“We really refined the definition of which bags we were trying to eliminate from town,” she said.

The bylaw has an enforcement mechanism and includes fines. Enforcement can be by a police officer, enforcement officer, or representative of the board of health or licensing department.

The fines are $50 for a first offense, $100 for a second offense and $200 for each subsequent offense.

The Special Town Meeting is scheduled to begin October 27 at 6 p.m. in the auditorium at Provincetown Town Hall. The article on plastic bags is Article 8 of 15 articles on the warrant.